Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Anne Moody and 'Coming of Age in Mississippi'

Top of the Morning column published in The Natchez Democrat (Wednesday, March 6, 2024, page 4A)

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Top of the Morning

Anne Moody and 'Coming of Age in Mississippi'

By Roscoe Barnes III

This month, in recognition of Women’s History Month, I’d like to recommend a book by a woman who played a vital role in the civil rights movement in Mississippi. The book is, “Coming of Age in Mississippi,” and it was written by Anne Moody (1940-2015), who was born and reared in Centreville, Miss.

Moody attended Natchez College in the early 1960s before enrolling at Tougaloo College, where she became a civil rights activist. Moody died on Feb. 5, 2015, at her home in Gloster. She was 74.

On Tuesday, Feb. 27, I presented a talk on Moody at a meeting of the Natchez Historical Society. My topic was, “Anne Moody’s Coming of Age in Mississippi: Why It Matters.” Here, I want to give an overview of what I shared. Perhaps it will spark an idea, inspire, or maybe generate interest in Moody’s life history.

Moody’s story matters for many reasons, but in the interest of space, I will talk about three of them.
First, her story matters because of  her suffering, sacrifices, and achievements in the civil rights movement.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “unmerited suffering is redemptive.” This was certainly true with Moody. When reading about her suffering, it’s important to see that she was far more than a victim. In fact, she was more of a warrior. Moody once said that she had planned to study medicine and become a doctor, but the needs of African Americans for freedom and civil rights moved her to make sacrifices in the movement.
As Moody came of age, she participated in peaceful protests, marches, and sit-ins in an effort to desegregate businesses, churches, and public facilities. She endured beatings and incarcerations. She also assisted with voter registration drives for Freedom Summer in 1964.
In May 1963, Moody joined students and faculty from Tougaloo College for a sit-in protest at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Jackson. In the iconic photo of the scene, she is pictured with Joan Trumpauer as a mob of white racists assaulted them and showered them with condiments. But that wasn’t all. She recounted: “I was attacked with fists, brass knuckles and the broken portions of glass sugar containers, and was burned with cigarettes.”

Second, her story matters because of her literary contribution to Mississippi History.

Moody was a rare voice in Mississippi. Many fought in the struggle, but few wrote, and even fewer left a historical record in their own words that remains in print. Moody once said that she didn’t think of herself as a writer; instead, she saw herself as an activist.

Moody's book is a story of pain and poverty, racism, Jim Crow and racial violence by white supremacists. It is also a story of hope, persistence, and triumph against the odds. As “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” shed light on the horrors of slavery, Moody's book sheds light on the plight and horrific living conditions of many blacks in Mississippi, especially those who were poor.

Third, her story matters because of her relationships with key figures in the movement.

Moody was in all the right places at the right time, and she came to know many important people in the civil rights movement. Through her book, she highlighted their respective stories, and in doing so, she helped to cement their place in history. You might even say that she helped to immortalize some of these figures.
On the pages of her book, she gives the names and stories of many unsung heroes. The longevity of her memoir means their stories will not be forgotten. Whenever and wherever her story is told, their names will be noted along with hers.
In conclusion, I will note that while Anne Moody has not received the recognition she deserves, her story presents an important and compelling commentary on Mississippi history. It is a story of rage, race, injustice, and hope. Since it was first published in December 1968, it has remained in print to this day, and for good reason. Check it out.
ROSCOE BARNES III, Ph.D., is the cultural heritage tourism manager for Visit Natchez.


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