What is a summary of Coming of Age in Mississippi?

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poetrymfa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Anne Moody's Coming of Age follows the true story of Anne, who grew up during the civil rights movement. 

Part one, "Childhood," describes Anne's upbringing, the first four years of which occurred in a shack at a plantation where her sharecropper family worked the fields. Early on, Anne's father abandons the family after straying from his marriage and developing a gambling habit. This results in Anne's mother moving the family off the plantation and closer to the town of Centreville. This results in huge financial struggles for the family, who cannot afford to eat. 

Anne starts working when she enters the fourth grade in order to help support the family. The family moves into a house that is built by her mother's boyfriend, Raymond. Although Anne's mother and Raymond marry, Raymond cannot financially support the family either. Despite this, Anne does very well in school, picks up basketball, and is chosen to be the homecoming queen.

Part two, "High School," follows Anne as she begins to finally open her eyes to the racial strife and violence in her life. When she is fourteen years old, a local African American boy is killed for whistling at a white woman. Anne overhears a discussion about the NAACP shortly thereafter and learns that the organization is dedicated to helping African Americans living in the South. Anne begins to feel a growing sense of hatred for everyone—whites for their violence against her people, and African Americans for their (at least in Anne's eyes) apathy. Tensions continue to escalate, and one of Anne's classmates is beaten; later, an act of arson almost kills a family. 

Anne ends up spending the summer in New Orleans with her Uncle Ed; however, when she returns to Centreville, things are still bad. Her cousin has been chased out of town, and Raymond seems to hate her. Anne distracts herself with school and tutoring Wayne Burke and his white friends in math. A friendship develops between the two which is cut short when Wayne's mother accuses Anne or her brother of stealing. Anne continues to work hard, albeit elsewhere, and saves up money for college.

In her last year of high school, Anne realizes that Raymond sexually desires her. They fight, and she leaves home to go stay with her father and his new wife, Emma; however, also treats her poorly, and Anne leaves town after graduating.

Part three, "College," details Anne getting a basketball scholarship to a junior college in Mississippi, which she ends up finding suffocating. She starts dating a fellow basketball player and gets involved in activism by organizing a boycott of the school cafeteria. She later transfers with a scholarship to Tugaloo College and joins her local NAACP chapter. Her involvement causes her grades to suffer; however, Anne believes that her work, particularly in registering African American voters in the Mississippi Delta, is critical to changing the treatment of African Americans.

Part four, "The Movement," follows Anne's increasing involvement with the civil rights movement, including a sit-in at the Woolworth's lunch counter and many other demonstrations throughout Jackson. Anne is eventually arrested and jailed, and she begins to receive letters from her family that her behavior is causing issues for them back in Centreville. Anne pushes on despite this, organizing a march to protest the death of civil rights leader Medgar Evers. Anne is once again arrested. 

Anne starts working at the CORE offices in Canton, Mississippi, in order to continue to register voters despite the threats of violence she faces. She attends the March on Washington, DC, in 1963. Shortly thereafter, the Birmingham church bombing forces her to question the non-violence element of the civil rights movement. She is eventually placed on a KKK blacklist, which makes her fear for her and her family's safety. She takes a break from her work to go to New Orleans but winds up helping out with CORE activities there, as well. 

When Anne returns to Tugaloo for graduation, she learns tat a Freedom Day march has been organized; this event is marred by the brutal attack of a boy by police. Anne graduates, visits New Orleans again, and then goes back to Canton. From there, Anne ultimately decides to join a group of African Americans boarding a bus to Washington, DC, to testify at congressional hearings about racial discrimination in the South. The book ends on an uncertain note, with Anne wondering if her people will ever be able to achieve racial justice.

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Coming of Age in Mississippi

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