Coming of Age in Mississippi Summary
by Anne Moody

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Coming of Age in Mississippi Summary

Coming of Age in Mississippi is a 1968 autobiography by Anne Moody in which Moody recounts having grown up during the turbulent civil rights movement.

  • After entering high school, Anne notices an escalation in racial tensions in her hometown of Centreville.
  • Anne earns a scholarship to Tugaloo College, where she becomes involved in the civil rights movement. She receives several death threats as a result.
  • Fearing for her life, Anne briefly moves from Mississippi, to New Orleans to live with her sister. She later returns to Mississippi and joins a delegation heading to Washington, DC, to testify in front of Congress.

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Summary

Introduction

Coming of Age in Mississippi is a 1968 memoir by Anne Moody in which Moody recounts her childhood in rural Mississippi and her subsequent journey towards becoming a civil rights activist. The memoir was positively received, and it won the Best Book of the Year Award from the National Library Association. Critics praised Moody’s nuanced depiction of the civil rights movement, including her criticisms of the racism and classism within certain activist circles.

Part One: Childhood

Anne Moody, called Essie Mae for much of her childhood, spends the first four years of her life in a sharecropper’s shack on a plantation in Mississippi. When Anne’s father has an affair and develops a gambling problem, Anne’s mother, nicknamed Twosweet, moves to Centreville, Mississippi, with her three children. Though Toosweet works several jobs, she still struggles to support her family. Soon after moving to Centreville, Toosweet has her fourth child with a soldier named Raymond.

Raymond builds a house for Toosweet and the children near his own family’s home, giving them a sense of stability at last. However, though Raymond and his family are also Black, they look down on Toosweet and her children as a result of their darker skin. Eventually, Toosweet and Raymond marry, despite not having received a blessing from Raymond’s family. Meanwhile, Anne begins taking on domestic work for White families in order to help support her own family. One of Anne’s employers, Linda Jean, is kind to her and pays Anne a higher-than-average wage. However, Linda Jean’s mother, Mrs. Burke—a known racist—encourages Linda Jean to lower Anne’s wages and warns her to be less familiar with Anne on account of their different races. Anne considers Mrs. Burke to have been her first experience with outright racial prejudice.

Though she devotes most of her free time to working, Anne still excels in school. She becomes homecoming queen and maintains high grades. Anne changes her name from Essie Mae to Annie Mae after receiving a copy of her birth certificate indicating that her name was falsely recorded as Annie Mae at birth. The summer after Anne graduates from junior high, Toosweet has another child. Raymond is forced to look for work in another state, and Anne reluctantly takes a job working directly for Mrs. Burke.

Part Two: High School

Shortly after Anne begins high school, a Black teenager named Emmett Till is murdered by a lynch mob for allegedly flirting with a White woman. This event, combined with Mrs. Burke’s racist comments and behavior, fuels Anne’s sense of injustice, and she grows increasingly angry with the world around her. Till’s death is treated as a taboo within the community, and the Black citizens of Centreville continue pretending that nothing is wrong. Anne eventually finds a mentor in her teacher Mrs. Rice, who teaches her about the NAACP and the ongoing struggle for racial equality. However, Mrs. Rice warns Anne not to mention their conversations, as Mrs. Rice could be fired. Mrs. Rice is ultimately fired anyway.

Angry and disillusioned with the social climate in Centreville, Anne spends the summer after her freshman year of high school working in Louisiana. However, she encounters numerous struggles in Louisiana, including a couple who leaves town without paying her. 

Anne returns to...

(The entire section is 1,394 words.)