Last Updated on June 24, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1932
During her senior year at Tougaloo, Anne receives a letter from her mother discouraging her participation in civil rights activities and warning her that she won’t be able to come back to Centreville if she continues her activism; she informs Anne that the local police are asking questions and that during Anne’s last visit, her mother kept her inside for fear of what would happen to her in public. However, instead of changing Anne’s mind, the letter makes Anne angry and strengthens her convictions about the significance of her work. Anne realizes that her priorities have changed in fundamental ways, and she is insulted by her family’s lack of support.
Anne participates in a Woolworth’s sit-in that is timed to coincide with a demonstration. The sit-in grows violent—with Anne and other participants being verbally and physically abused and humiliated—but it is attention-getting, and a movement leader named Medgar Evers personally commends Anne and the other activists. Anne had told her mother of her participation before the sit-in occurred, but her mother begged her not to participate. Again, Anne is distressed at her mother's inability to see the significance of the event. She acknowledges that she may have to distance herself from her family to some extent to do her work, and she admits that she might even endanger them in the process of fighting for change. “I had to live my life as I saw fit. I had made that decision when I left home,” she writes.
Anne participates in marches, leads nonviolence workshops, attends demonstrations, and works with other activists to make demands of Jackson’s mayors. She is among a large group of demonstrators who are arrested and put in jail, where she observes that the White police are allowed to treat Black people with the same hostility that Nazis treated Jewish people under Hitler’s regime.
Anne’s family continues to write letters to her, and even her sister Adline encourages her to stop participating in activist work. But Anne continues on, despite the devastating news that Medgar Evers has been shot.
Anne and a group of other activists go to White churches to see if they can peacefully attend with the White worshippers, but they are kicked out of several facilities. However, one congregation welcomes them, and Anne finally begins to feel that they are making progress.
Over the summer, Anne works for the activist group Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in Canton, Mississippi, on a voter registration initiative. She meets the Chinns, a Black family that runs a successful restaurant. The comparatively wealthy Chinns support Freedom House, a civil rights headquarters of sorts. But the voter registration drive is hard—Black citizens are hesitant to register, and volunteer canvassers are hard to enlist. The initiative loses funding due to low productivity, and five high school volunteers are injured when White protesters shoot buckshot at them, which significantly reduces the high school volunteer corps that Anne had established.
Exhausted by the failure, Anne gives a resigned but ultimately moving speech beseeching the Black community to get more involved in its own liberation. In the meantime, the Ku Kux Klan begins plotting against Freedom House. The volunteers hide in the surrounding area and witness the Klan coming, but the Klan doesn’t do anything, because no one is inside for them to target. As C. O. Chinn gets more involved in civil rights, he begins to experience an unprecedented level of persecution from local police, who had previously left him alone. He loses his liquor license, then his business, but nevertheless keeps working for the movement.
Anne travels with Reverend Ed King and his wife to the March on Washington in August 1963, the summer when Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. The drive is dangerous, and Anne is ambivalent about King’s message: it seems too idealistic and unrelated to the gritty work she and her fellow activists have been doing in the Mississippi Delta.
Anne begins to work with CORE to tackle the troubles facing Black people from another angle—by helping with food and clothing from out of state, so that the fear of losing work and deepening poverty will no longer be excuses for Black people to avoid pursuing civil rights. She continues to be upset, however, about what she sees as the movement’s lack of progress—which, compounded with familial pressure to stop her activities, weighs on her conscience. She is particularly distraught on September 15, 1963, upon learning that four children have been killed by the Ku Klux Klan in a Birmingham church. The incident makes her seriously question the value of nonviolence.
Anne uses her birthday cake and gifts to throw a party that will hopefully encourage lost high school volunteers to rejoin the movement. She learns that their school principal has forbidden them from participating, but that this has spurred more interest from students. Volunteer ranks grow thin, and soon Anne is among only three women living alone in Freedom House, a fact that means police harass them freely. Doris and Lenora, the other two residents, buy guns.
Anne votes against a decision several civil rights groups make about holding a mock Black vote to encourage Black voter registration and show solidarity, but she is outnumbered. She rallies “registrants” and observes that one policeman in particular is trying to intimidate her. It works to some extent; soon she has to take sleeping pills to relax—but she also manages to reach voters. The mock vote gets 80,000 of the 400,000 Black people in Mississippi to vote.
Anne travels to Jackson, and an old friend, Bobbie, shows Anne a Klan blacklist with her name on it. Anne decides to take a break and goes to New Orleans. There, her grandmother turns her away, and she ends up sharing a home with her sister Adline. She works at the Maple Hill café again and sees her mother for the first time in years. The visit is strained, and Anne notes that her family is content despite their station in life.
In November of 1963, Anne is at work at the café when she learns that President John F. Kennedy has been shot—a shock to her and other activists, who believed his presidency was hopeful for their cause. Despite her misgivings, Anne returns to civil rights work, this time in a New Orleans voter registration drive. The work is as difficult in New Orleans as it was in the Delta, but rather than refusing to register out of fear, the Black citizens of New Orleans don’t register because their lives in the city are generally so much better than they had been in smaller, more rural communities.
Anne’s relative, Clift, is killed, and Anne tries to investigate how it happened. However, she is exhausted, and she eventually learns she’s anemic. She discovers that she can graduate with her degree from Tougaloo, and Adline expresses an ambivalent interest in her plans. Anne travels to Jackson for the graduation ceremony on the anniversary of the Woolworth’s sit-in she participated in a year ago, and she engages in more protests and sees more violence. The cop who dislikes her continues to watch her closely, and her family doesn’t attend her graduation.
When she returns to the Delta, Anne is somewhat despairing. Good people are encountering trouble and not getting the results she thinks they deserve. C. O. Chinn, the once-successful Black entrepreneur who supported the civil rights movement, is now in a chain gang. A younger activist asks her to join a team headed to Washington, DC, for a march, and Anne reflects on where things stand. She wonders if her work, if everyone’s work, has made any difference in the lives of Black Americans.
She joins the group of activists on their bus but ends her memoir by musing, “I wonder, I really wonder.”
This final section of Moody’s memoir takes her away from her freshman efforts at organizing and activism, and shows her learning to adapt to the controlled chaos of demonstrations, marches, meetings, sit-ins, and rallies for social change. Here, Moody focuses on the chaos and group energy involved in the civil rights movement, and also on the exhaustion and enormity of the project. Moody’s activism escalates rapidly in scope, starting off in the relatively insulated role of a campus NAACP volunteer before participating in a well-publicized Woolworth’s sit-in and working amid an environment of constant intimidation, frequent hunger, and inadequate resources.
Anne’s decision to leave behind her family and her hometown comes back to haunt and anger her in the form of letters from her mother, her sister Adline, and others. She initially tries to share her ideals with her family, only to conclude that Black complacency is just as damaging to the movement as outright hatred from White people. Anne grows very angry at her family’s complacency but is also made aware that her work is making them targets for racist violence. Her mother and sister urge her not to continue participating in the movement for their sake as much as her own. Their letters make her angry, as does their lack of support for the work she has done in school.
Anne grows exhausted by the endless work required by the movement and the apparent lack of progress her work has yielded. But the work also teaches her to be resourceful and to always look at where her energy can be put to its best use. While working to register voters, she learns that many potential voters fear punitive measures from White people—such as reduced work opportunities and job loss—and thus they are economically discouraged from registering. Many have already lost work or been sent further into poverty for their participation in the movement. In response, Anne and her fellow volunteers bring in clothes and food from outside sources to help.
People in the Delta readily accept the help—but they still don’t vote. To make matters worse, escalating White violence against Black communities is escalating. Black leaders, such as Medgar Evers, and White civil rights supporters, such as John F. Kennedy, are murdered, as are innocent men, women, and children. When White protesters shoot buckshot at teen volunteers, Anne’s group loses many vote canvassers. When an Alabama church is bombed and four Black children are killed, Anne and her fellow activists are disgusted at the lengths that White people will go to in order to uphold racial distinctions.
Anne begins to suffer a physical and emotional breakdown brought on by the difficult work, relying on sleeping pills and feeling constantly nervous about harassment. She also seriously questions whether nonviolence is effective and whether or not Martin Luther King Jr. is really right in his approach to civil rights. She considers learning to shoot a gun but isn’t really that interested in taking up arms.
Even when Anne tries to take time off from the civil rights movement, seemingly insignificant events—such as renewed connections with her family in New Orleans—send her heading sidelong back into the movement. Even on her break, she begins to resume her work, but this time it’s outside Mississippi. As her story ends, she is left to wonder if the work has really mattered—a harsh assessment given the short amount of time she has spent in the movement, but one that is indicative of her frustration with the setbacks and her conviction that civil rights are long overdue.
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