Anne Moody was born in 1940, smack in the middle of WWII. Her parents broke up when she was only about 5 or 6. Though she grew up in a household where her mother did not encourage any questions about segregation or civil rights, from her school days, Anne moody was an activist. Being very poor, even as a child she worked in white homes, often helping the children there with their homework. It was when she went to college on full scholarship that she realized that people all over America was coming together against the way blacks were being treated. Coming of Age in Mississippi is a record of Anne Moody’s experiences as a young black woman in the south.
Relevance of the Title
The story is exactly what the title claims to be – it tells the story of Anne Moody as a child, a young girl and then as a young adult growing up in the segregated south. Most of the colored people she knew where very poor and suffered the indignities of segregation. Though she had many questions, often she did not get answers. He mother was content to live without probing too much. She did not like the way her daughter asked questions and demanded answers. As a young woman, the author was an activist, ready to take part in demonstrations and sit-ins.
Racial Distinctions – The Theatre of the Absurd
Racial distinctions had been part of Anne Mae’s life for as long as she could remember. But she could not understand the distinction. As far as she could see, whites and blacks are the same. To her child’s mind the only distinction was that colored people work for whites and the whites lived in better houses. Anne Mae was one of the brightest in her class so she knew that the whites were not smarter intellectually. Most black families had white or light skinned ancestors. That made the label ‘black’ even more arbitrary.
Disunity among the Colored People
Anne Mae was disheartened by the lack of unity among her own people. Many of the colored people were ready to live substandard lives, enduring poverty and disease though they were equal to whites in the eyes of law. In her own family, her mother did not like Anne Mae’s activism. She did not let her question the practice of segregation though they all suffered because of it.
The southern society was riven by prejudices. The whites considered the colored people sub-human referring to them as savages though it was their treatment of them that smacked of savagery. Even more difficult to understand was the superior attitude the light skinned blacks had towards people who had darker skins. Finally people like Anne Mae were prejudiced towards white people considering all of them to be bad.
Coming of Age in Mississippi charts Anne Mae’s life from the age of four to twenty three. These were also years when America went through great changes. Though the colored people had equal rights according to law, in southern states, they were treated in an inferior way, being considered savages and denied all facilities. For a long time, Anne Moody could not understand why this was so. Even as a young girl, she worked in the houses of white people to bring home some more money. When she was fifteen years old, the murder of an innocent colored boy Emmett Till shook the south. Anne became aware of the discrimination they had suffered for so long. The time had come to change society. She began working for NAACP though it was a banned organization.
Anne became aware of divisions within the colored community. Those who had lighter skin considered themselves superior to the ones who had darker skin. Anne’s mother had a live-in relationship with a man named Raymond. His family had lighter skin which made them act superior – an attitude that Anne found insufferable. She then decided to live with her father and his new wife. Even when Anne moved to college she mistrusted all whites though some of her white teachers genuinely wished to see colored people getting equal treatment. Towards the end of her story, Anne began to feel that the Civil Rights Movement was focused on the political aspect of civil rights whereas she felt that focus should be on improving the economic status of the colored people. She became disenchanted with the movement.
When the story begins, Anne is only four years old. She and her siblings live with their parents in a shack in a plantation. They have no electricity and no water supply. The owner of the plantation has both. While the parents work outside, the two girls are left in the care of their older brother. He resents this; one day trying to scare them, he sets fire to the shack. Soon after, their father moves out, to live with another woman. The family then move out of the plantation and her mother begins work as a waitress. Anne too starts working in the homes of wealthy white people. Anne gets excellent grades in school. She wonders what the difference is between the whites and the blacks.
Her mother begins a live-in relationship with a man Raymond Davis. His family has slightly lighter skin and looks down upon Anne’s family. Her mother however does not seem to mind. Four more children are born to her. The change in Anne’s life comes in 1955 when a young colored boy, Emmett Till is brutally killed by whites. She becomes aware for the organization named NACCP that is working to make the blacks aware of their rights. They organize demonstrations and sit-ins. Anne becomes involved in these though her mother warns her not to. Her mother feels Anne looks down on her. Anne’s high school years are not happy ones especially when she is at home. She hates Raymond and one day, she moves out and begins living with her father and step-mother. Anne is a lot happier with them. When she wins a scholarship, she enters Natchez College. It is a suffocatingly conservative place so she moves to Tougaloo which is an all black institution. She joins NACCP as a member. Her mother is dead against it. In spite of being very active within the civil rights movement, Anne concludes that it has lost its direction. Unless it helps the colored people improve their economic condition, political equality is meaningless. Anne has known only too well what poverty is; she wants that to change.