Coming of Age in Mississippi

History H106

TR 11-12:15

In Anne Moody’s published autobiography, Coming of Age in Mississippi, she depicts what it was like to grow up in the South as a poor African American. Instead of focusing the book on the years she spent in the civil rights movement, she chose to start from when she was a child at age four. Narrating her life throughout the book, Moody illustrates why the civil rights movement was such a necessity by exemplifying the physical, economic, and social racial injustices that took place in society from the beginning of her childhood to her action in the movement for civil rights.

Moody grew up with her mother, her father, her sister Adline, and her brother Junior on a plantation as sharecroppers of land owned by a white man named Mr. Carter. Moody’s parents separated when her father left her mother for another woman, leaving Moody’s mother alone to raise the kids. Her mother demonstrated a strong strength of character raising the kids on her own, a trait that influenced Moody and gave her the ability to strive throughout the novel.

Moody encountered issues with race many times as a child. For example, she made friends with a few white neighbors and paraded to the movies with them. At the movies, she found that she was not allowed to go to the regular seats with the white neighbors; instead, she was directed to the balcony to join all the other black people at the theatre. Moody didn’t comprehend why she wasn’t allowed to join her white neighbor friends and examined the boys to try and understand what made her different from them. This examination illustrates Moody’s concern for race and foreshadows the civil rights movement that she will eventually analyze and fight for when she matures.

At nine years old, Moody began working for many employers in Centreville in order to help out with the family. Some of her employers were very kind while others were very nasty. For example, Linda Jean was a very nice white employer to Moody, yet her mother, Mrs. Burke, was a white supremacist and control freak who tried to tear her down. The most influential employer was Mrs. Clairborne and her family. They treated Moody like a daughter, allowing her to eat at the table with the family, educating her about the white world. The education provided by the Clairborne family allowed Moody to understand what race means in America, making the issue an important concern.

In high school, Moody encountered yet another act of racism when Emmitt Till was murdered. Emmitt Till, a 14-year-old boy, was murdered by white men for whistling at a white woman while he was visiting Mississippi from Chicago. The murder of Till startled and terrified black people because he was so young. Moody was really bothered by the murder of Till as she found herself unable to sleep or work for days.

Moody also learned about the NAACP for the first time while she was in high school. After overhearing Mrs. Burke speak about the NAACP, Moody asks her teacher, Mrs. Rice, who the NAACP is and their purpose. Mrs. Rice informs her what the NAACP is and helps her develop an understanding of the “black and white” America. Rice served as a guiding light for Moody, exposing her for the first time to the civil rights movements being made by the NAACP.

Other acts of violence took place during Moody’s childhood that proved interracial relationships were not acceptable. For example, white people burnt down the Taplin family home, killing the family, only to punish their neighbor who was having relations with a white woman. White people also assassinated the NAACP leader Medgar Evers in the middle of a civil rights movement. Both of these examples only represent a fraction of the actions white people took against black people for interracial relationships or movements that would bring white and black people together. Such acts frightened black people, embedding a fear in them that all black people who supported civil rights movements and interracial relationships would be punished severely.

As Moody began to witness more and more racial acts committed by white people towards blacks, she started to develop an intense hatred for white men when Samuel O’Quinn was murdered. O’Quinn