Coming of Age in Mississippi

by Anne Moody

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 377

Given the subject matter of Anne Moody's Coming of Age in Mississippi, the task of conceptualizing an essay topic based on this memoir of an African American growing up in poverty in rural Mississippi should not be difficult. While Moody's name is virtually never mentioned in discussions of the civil rights movement in the United States alongside such stalwarts of that era as John Lewis, Martin Luther King Jr., and Medgar Evers, her book and her participation in the movement provide plenty of information from which to draw inspiration. Indeed, it is perhaps her very anonymity that could provide the basis for an essay. Moody's devotion to the civil rights movement, and her willingness to risk her life in defense of her principles should elevate her to the ranks of other, more popularly-known civil rights leaders. 

Coming of Age in Mississippi is the story of Moody's life from her birth in 1940 to the book's completion in the mid-1960s. Moody's book is, therefore, the history of the modern civil rights movement. Her memoir serves as an indictment of the immorality of institutionalized segregation and the legacy of racism. Her descriptions of her childhood, including the two-room wooden shack in which her family lived, the struggles her parents endured as sharecroppers on a white-owned plantation, the physical and emotional abuse she endured at the hands of an uncle scarcely older than she, and her participation in the civil rights movement all suggest an individual of formidable character. Moody not only survived; she survived with dignity. 

The climactic event in Moody's life with respect to the civil rights movement was her participation in a sit-in at a Woolworth's lunch counter in 1963. Photographs of the physical abuse and taunting she and others endured from an unruly and exceedingly hostile mob of pro-segregationist whites captured perfectly the sadly ironic nature of the movement. The supposedly racially superior whites acted without any regard for simple human decency while Moody emerged as the portrait of courage and dignity despite the food poured on her head. A good topic for an essay, then, could involve the juxtaposition between the racist majority and the courage and humanity of the small minority struggling for the justice that should have been an automatic component of American citizenship.

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