Civil Rights Activists’ Legacy Lives On
Prominent historical figure and author of the dynamic memoir “Coming of Age in Mississippi,” Anne Moody, 74, died Feb. 5 in her home in Gloster, Mississippi.
According to The Associated Press, her sister, Adline Moody, said Moody suffered from dementia the past several years and stopped eating two days before she died in her sleep.
Award-winning autobiography “Coming of Age in Mississippi” was published in 1968 and has been issued in seven different languages and sold around the world. The writing describes conditions and lifestyles of growing up black in the era of Jim Crow.
Anne Moody published two books during her lifetime, the memoir and a 1975 series of short stories on the theme of mortality called “Mr. Death.” The nonfiction story, “Coming of Age in Mississippi,” was written in an undaunted style, narrating her early childhood life up to her activism in the Civil Rights Movement as a young woman.
According to The New York Times, Sen. Edward Kennedy wrote that Moody’s book “brings to life the sights and smells and suffering of rural poverty in a way seldom available to those who live far away.”
He added, “Anne Moody’s powerful and moving book is a timely reminder that we cannot now relax in the struggle for sound justice in America or in any part of America. We would do so at our peril.”
Essie Mae Moody, giving herself the name Anne as a teenager, was born on Sept. 15, 1940, in Centreville, Mississippi, to sharecroppers. As a young girl, she worked for white neighbors, cleaning their homes and helping their children with homework to earn money as a means to support her family.
At this age, she also involved herself in her church while maintaining excellent grades in school. During the nationwide time of African-American civil unrest, Moody grew up in a community where she so often heard stories of interracial sexual abuse, lynching, arson and other exploits of racial intimidation.
She attended Natchez Junior College on a basketball scholarship before enrolling in 1964 in Tougaloo College, a historically black organization near Jackson. There, she earned a bachelor’s degree and continued her pursuit for justice for African Americans.
She continued her efforts with the Civil Rights Movement in the South, working with the Congress of Racial Equality, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
“I always looked up to Anne Moody after reading her memoir in one of my English classes and when I heard the unfortunate news of her death, I could not believe it, but I knew she had left behind a powerful legacy from the changes she made,” said Katelyn Daniels, a junior psychology major.
Moody and a racially mixed group participated in a sit-in in Jackson at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in 1963 where a mob of white citizens surrounded them and began pouring condiments on their heads.
The famous and widely produced photograph shows the peaceful protesters sitting at the counter praying as the crowd brutally insulted, attacked and mocked the group for hours.
Moody narrated her experience in her memoir, saying, “I was snatched from my stool by two high school students. I was dragged about 30 feet toward the door by my hair when someone made them turn me loose.”
She continued by detailing how the mob smeared them with ketchup, mustard and anything else available on the counter, and how her friend John Salter was punched in the jaw with brass knuckles, soon to have someone throw salt into the gash on his face.
In the 1960s, Moody moved to New York, where she wrote “Coming of Age in Mississippi” and worked at Cornell University. She lived in silence for decades, avoiding interviews and the like.
USM professor of English Maureen Ryan exposes students to “Coming of Age in Mississippi” and believes the story has impacted them.
“Not surprisingly, Mississippi students respond strongly to Moody’s powerful, very personal account of her growing consciousness of racism in Mississippi in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and her gradual evolution into an angry, outspoken participant in the burgeoning Civil Rights movement,” Ryan said.
“Moody wrote her book while she was still young; her account of her childhood (poverty, the hatred of local whites, her mother’s fear of her activism, etc.) is moving because she was the age of most of my students when she wrote about her own childhood, high school and college experiences.”
The legacy Anne Moody left after her time as an influential author and Civil Rights advocate is said to be her memoir. “Anne Moody’s memoir, ‘Coming of Age in Mississippi,’ is her legacy,” Ryan said.