Coming of Age in Mississippi Questions and Answers
by Anne Moody

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In "Coming of Age in Mississippi," how does Anne Moody become disillusioned with the civil rights leaders of her time?

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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...

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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.