Coming of Age in Mississippi

by Anne Moody

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How does Anne Moody's approach to activism in Coming of Age in Mississippi diverge from Martin Luther King's?

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Anne Moody is critical of Dr. King and the civil rights movement leadership for failing to engage with wider socioeconomic issues that affect the African American community. She thinks that they're so fixated upon voting drives, bus boycotts, and lunch-counter sit-ins that they've failed to develop a comprehensive long-term vision that addresses vital issues such as employment and housing.

Generally speaking, Moody's critique is that the leadership of the civil rights movement is too narrowly focused on abstract rather than practical questions. And in Moody's experience this turns off many African Americans who would otherwise flock to the cause. It's not enough for them to be able to vote or send their kids to desegregated schools, out sit wherever they like on a bus; they need to have some idea of the quality of life they and their families can expect in future.

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Anne Moody is involved in grassroots activism, including working for CORE in rural Mississippi. In her work trying to register African Americans to vote, she sees that people are so poor that voting is not their first concern. They are worried about bread-and-butter issues, such as their jobs, putting food on the table, and having clothing in which to dress their children. In addition, they are afraid that if they register to vote, they will be threatened and might lose their jobs.

When Moody sees Martin Luther King and other Civil Rights leaders at the 1963 March on Washington, she feels that they are out of touch with the reality on the ground in rural Mississippi. They do not understand the reality of poverty and the impoverished's need to worry about survival before they focus on dreams. In addition, she does not feel that non-violence is always going to protect African Americans in the South, where their lives are constantly in danger. She feels that King and other leaders are not focused enough on the material reality of African Americans in the South.

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There seems to be two primary divergences between Dr. King and Anne Moody.  The first is the method of change both embraced.  I think you can see much in her book, "Coming of Age in Mississippi," where she advocates more of a confrontational and direct approach to social change.  She expresses dissatisfaction with the nonviolent approach advocated through the teachings of Dr. King and others in his camp.  Moody was not advocating violence or anything of that nature, but given her experiences with the Klan at a young age and going out into rural Mississippi and experiencing the brutal conditions of segregation in the South, she felt that a more direct approach to the issue of equality of race in America was needed.  Another point of divergence is that Moody articulates the freedom struggle as both a woman and a person of color.  Dr. King spoke of freedom for all Americans, but did fall silent on addressing the issues of women's activism, as did many leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.  Moody spoke from a perspective of being a woman and an individual of color, two conditions of silence that needed to be articulated in both domains.

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