In "Coming of Age in Mississippi," how does Anne Moody become disillusioned with the civil rights leaders of her time?
Anne Moody believed that many of the civil rights leaders of her time, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., relied on rallies and demonstrations, or nonviolent means as their only tool to fight racial inequality. She felt that these methods were ineffective.
"Anne travels with Reverend King and his wife to the March on Washington in August 1963, the summer when Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech."
"The drive is dangerous, and Anne is ambivalent about King’s message, since it seems too idealistic and unrelated to the gritty work she and her fellow activists have been doing in the Delta."
Frustrated that nothing seems to change for black people,Anne begins to work actively to provide food and clothing to people through her work with CORE.
She knows that fear and desperation are great factors in many blacks desire to keep out of the movement. However, the complacency that prevails in the black community makes her feel both emotionally and physically exhausted.
She ends her work with a question of whether all her efforts made a difference. Even though she knows that equality for blacks is long overdue. She is saddened by the uphill battle that never seems to end as the violence continues with the senseless deaths of many giants of the movement.
"Medgar Evers, and white civil rights supporters, such as John F. Kennedy, are slain, as are innocent men, women, and children.
While trying to get African Americans to vote in Mississippi as part of CORE in the summer of 1964, Moody realizes that the civil rights leaders of other groups are out of touch with the people they are working to organize. Leaders of other groups such as the NAACP believe that the African Americans in Madison County will become very excited about voting in an upcoming freedom election, but Moody, who has spent a lot of time with the people, knows that they are more concerned with survival. When local African Americans come to the CORE offices, their first concern is usually getting free clothing, not registering to vote. Moody realizes that the older people in particular have been raised with fear and won't push for civil rights.
The year before, in 1963, while listening to Dr. Martin Luther King giving his famous "I Have A Dream" speech during the March on Washington, Moody is disillusioned and thinks:
I sat on the grass and listened to the speakers, to discover we had "dreamers" instead of leaders leading us. . . . Martin Luther King went on and on talking about his dream. I sat there thinking that in Canton we never had time to sleep, much less dream. (335)
She thinks that leaders such as King are out of touch with the ordinary African Americans in the south, who are so poor that they can only concentrate on survival. Moody finds the leaders of the movement too lofty and abstract for the people they are trying to lead.
Anne Moody comes to think of the civil rights movement's leadership as being out of touch with African Americans. She thinks they're dreamers, great at making inspiring speeches, but not so good at addressing bread-and-butter issues such as poverty, housing, and social welfare. Anne accepts that formal legal equality and voting rights are essential goals for the civil rights movement; Anne herself participates in voting drives with CORE. Yet she feels that too much weight is placed upon such goals at the expense of the dire necessities of everyday life such as food and clothing.
Lofty rhetoric is all very well, but it can't put food on the table or clothes on people's backs. Eloquent speeches and civil rights marches may gain a lot of media attention, but once the cameras have been switched off and the reporters have returned home, African Americans still have to engage in the daily struggle for existence. And it's that struggle, according to Anne, that the civil rights movement has largely neglected. The focus of its leadership remains fixed upon formal, rather than substantive equality.
Ann Moody’s disillusionment stemmed from her belief that the leaders of the civil rights movement were out of touch with the immediate needs of black Americans and her frustration at the violence those fighting for equality continued to endure. In the summer of 1964 Ann and other CORE members worked tirelessly in their efforts for voter registration and voting rights. She became frustrated when those efforts were met with threats of violence, and by the lack of improvement in the lives of those she and CORE had worked to help. Ann had grown up knowing poverty and the struggle to survive and put food on the table firsthand. In addition, her activism work in the rural south put her in a position to see the immediate needs of the people the movement aimed to help, something she felt many of the movement’s leaders didn’t fully understand. Ann came to believe that improving the economic situation of black Americans would be a more effective focus of the movement. For instance, she wanted to help rural black farmers to gain ownership of their farms. Her feelings were fueled by her experiences with activism, as well as her personal experiences with inequality as a child and young adult.
Ann’s involvement in the civil rights movement and her later disillusionment with it were also influenced by her childhood struggle to understand the reasoning behind racial inequality. Ann cited the death of Emmett Till as having had a major impact on her as a child. She struggled to understand the terrible event and was offered little guidance by her mother. She later came to recognize her mother’s avoidance of the issues surrounding inequality as part of a larger pattern among certain members of the black community in the south. This refusal to engage in activism in the face of such violence deeply frustrated Ann. The importance of this theme of violence in the fight for racial equality is evident throughout her story and influenced her feelings of frustration with the movement. In college, she faced an angry mob at a bus depot after a classmate entered a “whites only” area, and at her participation in the Woolworth’s counter sit in she witnessed white police officers do nothing to help when she and her classmates were threatened and attacked. Ann was deeply troubled to see the disturbing lengths Southern whites would go to in order to preserve segregation and racial inequality, particularly because the movement’s efforts were largely focused in non-violent demonstrations. The assassination of Medgar Evers was a particularly tragic event, which Ann noted had a divisive effect on the movement. Her feelings reflect the difficulties that the civil rights movement was facing in the sixties as leaders struggled to agree on their path forward. These experiences ultimately led Ann Moody to classify the movement’s leaders as “dreamers” and to question the movement’s ability to overcome racism and inequality in America.