Coming of Age in Mississippi
Racial Inequality and Civil Rights Movement in Anne Moodys Coming of Age in Mississippi
Anne Moodys Coming of Age in Mississippi is one of the most important autobiographical stories from the Civil Rights Era that is widely read today. The book covers Moodys nineteen years of life. The story begins when Moody was four years old and concludes with her participation in a march against racial inequality when she was twenty three. Moody tells her story of growing up in Mississippi and her struggles against racial inequality during the Civil Rights era. As Moody demonstrates, African-Americans in Mississippi faced racial inequality in virtually all areas: political, social, and economic. But while Moody discusses political and social inequality that African-Americans suffered from, she specifically emphasizes how destructive economic inequality was. She became somewhat disillusioned with Civil Rights Movement because Civil Rights activists primarily addressed political and social rights whereas their activism failed to improve the economic conditions of African-Americans in Mississippi and the rest of the United States.
Moody tells in the book how she became conscious of social inequality when she was a child. She recalls how she could play with white children as a young child without any significant consciousness of race. But the situation changed when she tried to enter a movie theater with her white playmates at the age of seven. Moody was dragged out of the white section of the theater by her mother. Her mother scolded her saying that it was unacceptable to break the etiquette of racial norms. After the incident, Moody explains, her white playmates stopped playing with her. She then realized that “not only were they better than me because they were white, but everything they owned and everything connected with them was better than what was available to me. I hadnt realized before that downstairs in the movies was any better than upstairs.
But now I saw that it was. Their whiteness provided them with a pass to downstairs in that nice section and my blackness sent me to the balcony” (Moody 33-34). As she grew up, Moody began to realize that all the public places in the state were segregated, relegating African-Americans to a second-class citizenship.
Inequality based on race was so embedded in the society that African-Americans were not immune to the destructive effects of racial prejudice against each other either. It was widely accepted among them that the lighter ones skin was the higher ones place was in the society. Moody resented how her family from the fathers side looked down upon her mother because of skin color differences. In one place, she writes: “Then I began to think about Miss Pearl and Raymonds people and how they hated Mama and for no reason at all then the fact that she was a couple of shades darker than the other members of their family. Yet they were Negroes and we were also Negroes. I just didnt see Negroes hating each other so much” (Moody 59). In other words, racial prejudices were absurd, but it was nevertheless part of the social matrix in the state of Mississippi.
On a political level, inequality affected African-Americans harshly. They lacked civil rights such as the right to vote, independent judiciary, or the ability to run for public offices in the state. The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples) was banned in Mississippi. Moody was especially moved by the vigilante murder of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old boy from Chicago who was killed for allegedly whistling.