Coming of Age in Mississippi

by Anne Moody

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What factors significantly influenced Moody's emergence as a civil rights activist?

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Moody's choice to take an active role in civil rights activism was influenced by three factors: racial discrimination, her childhood, and her character.

Growing up, Moody was a victim of racial discrimination at home and school. Born and raised within a poor family, Moody was forced to start working at the early age of 10. It was during her first job that she came face-to-face with the realities of racism. She had to work more hours than her fellow white colleagues for the same pay. This and other similar incidences in her early life made her develop resentment for white men for treating African Americans unfairly. She also developed resentment towards the black community for failing to take action against the mistreatment.

Besides the racial discrimination witnessed by the young girl, Moody had a firm personal character. She wondered why the African American community sat in silence while they were being mistreated. All these factors came to a boiling point when a young African American boy, Emmett Till, was murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman. This particular instance filled her with fear. She realized that she could also be a victim of racial discrimination and decided to take action. She Joined the NAACP and became an active member of activist protest throughout high school and college.

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Although Anne Moody had been working within the rank-and-file of civil rights activism, she was galvanized to step up her involvement and move in a different direction both by specific events and by evaluating the overall direction the movement had been taking.

When Moody was growing up in small-town Mississippi, racial tension was a constant. The murder of a young African American boy, Emmett Till, for allegedly whistling at a white woman made her fear for her own life and provided the stimulus for her to start attending NAACP meetings. As she moved away from her town and attended Entering Tugaloo College, however, she became further aware of the sharp racial divide. Harassment and even death threats made her realize that as she was not immune to discrimination, neither could she stand aside and watch others work for her rights. At college, she began more direct involvement, such as organizing and participating in lunch counter sit-ins and enduring verbal and physical abuse as well as arrest.

Moody traveled with a group to Washington, DC for the August 1963 March on Washington. While she was caught up in the spirit of the huge assembly, she could not shake her impression that the tone was not quite right. Dr. King’s approach seemed too idealistic; she worried that he had distanced himself from the daily grind that occupied her. Returning home, she accelerates her involvement with voter registration drives.

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As with so much in Anne's existence, there are many complex and convergent factors that compel her to embrace activism as a form of being in the world.  The racism that envelops her is a part of this process.  Certainly, the role that poverty and race play in her early life are both factors in this.  Anne understands early on how both race and class are linked together, as they both play a major role in how she views reality.  A major factor that began the process of pushing Anne towards activism would have to be the murder of Emmett Till.  For Anne, this is a critical moment because it reflects the destructive element of racism in White society, something that would kill a boy for whistling at a White woman.  At the same time, it is a watershed moment for Anne's activism because it reflects how much people of color in the South were in need of activism.  The culture that simply would accept a murder like Till's as a fact of life is something that motivates Anne in her quest to fight through such an embedded passivity and something that inspires her to become a Civil Rights Activist.

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