Thursday, October 3, 2013

Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody

Anne Moody tells her life from when she was small to age 24, growing up in rural Mississippi. The book was published in 1968, when she was 28.  Online, you can only see a few pictures of her, because since then she has kept herself out of the limelight.  Her story made an enormous impact on the country at the time, particularly among educated whites who were ignorant of what sort of life blacks were living at that time – whether in the Northern cities or in Mississippi where Anne grew up.  Smart, determined to be educated and to make something of herself, Anne lived in a world where “her kind” was ostracized from opportunity and kept so by the threat of violence and reprisal against anyone trying to change their world. 

Anne early on saw the dilemma her race was chained to, and she did try to walk the line - to survive but to keep her soul intact.   While working for white women, some tried to break her spirit, while others gave her the nurturing she needed.  She had to make hard decisions about where to go and who to live with.   She attended college only to realize there were no jobs waiting for her – unless she wanted to be a teacher and support the “separate but equal” establishment that helped ensure blacks’ secondary status.

In the end, there was the Movement.  Anne joined the NCAAP in Jackson, Mississippi, where she was going to college.  She writes stirringly of the hard work and dedication shown by many like herself, and by people who had come down to the South to try and register blacks to vote.  But they were living with fear.  Being followed by cars out on country dirt roads at night, men busting into their houses looking for them, groups of KKK’s burning houses - houses with children inside.  Anne breaks up her time with the Movement by going and living with relatives in New Orleans, where she waitresses and tries to forget the oppression that exists in Southern rural areas. 

Ironically enough, it was when she started writing her story that Anne felt the impossibility of reversing people’s views and ever eradicating racism.  When she heard Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech in Washington, she didn’t share his exultation.  Now, over 40 years later, blacks and whites do work and attend school together, but inequalities persist.  Many young blacks don’t learn how to handle expectations of a generic workplace – they are tuned into their inner culture, not getting fitted to balance the demands of the outside world with their own need for affirmation.  Almost all teens have a time of breaking away and experimenting with what they want, what they think is important.  But some young people have an easier way back - back to school, to college, to jobs that can get you somewhere.

Why is her book still important?  Because she makes it real.  She doesn’t hide her feelings - whether it’s about her absent father, having white teachers for the first time in college, meeting gay people in the workplace, or her mother being hostile to her because Anne is trying to fight this thing, this life. 

I’m glad we have the book in our library, and I recommend it to everyone.  I wish she would tell the rest of her story.   You can access the catalog record here.

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