Coming of Age in Mississippi

by Anne Moody

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

After Emmett Till is murdered, Anne's mother tells her not to mention it around White people. Moody's White employer, Mrs. Burke, warns Anne that Emmett Till was killed because he "got out of his place with a white woman,” and she unsubtly implies that Anne herself needs to be careful about remembering her place. 

Before Emmett Till's murder, I had known the fear of hunger, hell, and the Devil. But now there was a new fear known to me--the fear of being killed just because I was black.

Anne develops a sense of fear and a sense of how unjust people like Mrs. Burke are, and she also develops a greater willingness to challenge people like Mrs. Burke. However, when she asks her mother about the NAACP, her mother warns her,

Don't you ever mention that word around Mrs. Burke or no other white person, you heah!

Anne’s mother is deeply fearful of how White people will respond to Anne’s burgeoning sense of injustice, and she tries to dissuade Anne from engaging in discussions about race. However, rather than successfully discouraging Anne, Toosweet only manages to put a strain on their relationship, which deepens as Anne gets older.

Anne later becomes disenchanted with the male leaders of the civil rights movement. After she and a group of ministers are arrested, she writes,

Some of them looked so pitiful, I thought they would cry any minute, and here they were, supposed to be our leaders.

She writes of listening to Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech,

I sat on the grass and listened to the speakers, to discover we had "dreamers" instead of leaders leading us. . . . Martin Luther King went on and on talking about his dream. I sat there thinking that in Canton we never had time to sleep, much less dream.

Anne has been working as an activist for several years, struggling against violent and prejudiced White people as well as apathetic and fearful Black people. Her efforts to register voters have resulted in her being repeatedly arrested, beaten, and placed on a KKK watch list. The comparative optimism and idealism of King and more urban activists seems, in Anne’s eyes, out of touch with the daily realities of being a Black person in the rural South. As a woman and as someone who has experienced poverty, Anne struggles to connect with the vision that King and his followers project, instead focusing on the more practical concerns facing her community.

More than ever I began to wonder whether God actually existed. Maybe God changed as the individual changed, or perhaps grew as one grew. Maybe my upbringing in the Church had had a lot to do with the God I knew before. The God my Baptist training taught me about was a merciful and forgiving God, one that said Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, and a number of other shalt nots. Since I had been part of the Movement, I had witnessed killing, stealing and adultery committed against Negroes by whites throughout the South.

In many ways, Anne’s struggle is not just a moral one, but also a spiritual one. As she grows disheartened about the lack of progress the movement has made, she also begins to doubt the existence of God. She was raised to believe that God was merciful and just, but her repeated exposure to injustice and violence lead her to become cynical. However, though she does briefly turn away from activism, she cannot stay away for long. 

I wonder, I really wonder.

The memoir ends on a speculative note that represents Anne’s increasingly cynical attitude towards the movement. She ponders whether the work she has done has really made a difference, and despairs over the thought that Black people may never achieve true equality. However, even as she ruminates on these negative thoughts, she still boards the bus with the group of young activists, continuing her work despite her doubts. 

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