After the sit-in, all I could think of was how sick Mississippi whites were. They believed so much in the segregated Southern way of life, they would kill to preserve it. I sat there in the NAACP office and thought of how many times they had killed when this way of life was threatened. I knew that the killing had just begun... Before the sit-in, I had always hated the whites in Mississippi. Now I knew it was impossible for me to hate sickness. The whites had a disease, an incurable disease in its final stages. What were our chances against such a disease?
Martin Luther King, Jr. is the face most commonly associated with the Civil Rights movement. He was an idealist, an optimist, a dreamer, a preacher. He preached a message of hope and faith, not despair. Anne Moody, the author of Coming of Age in Mississippi, is a very different personality from the idealistic Reverend King. In her memoir, she frequently comes across as bitter and angry and pessimistic. Relationally, she's stunted. And she's self-centered, over-confident, and unforgiving. Despite this, I admire her. Not just for her courage and her commitment to an important movement, but because she wasn't afraid to paint herself in an less than flattering light. She presents the facts and makes no apologies. You have to admire a woman who lays bare all the ugliness in her soul for the world to read and judge.
Reading this gritty narrative really emphasized the world of terror in which black Southern Americans lived. By the end of the 1960s, Anne had been jailed four or five times, had made it onto the Klan's hit-list, had been threatened, beaten and terrorized. I was especially intrigued with the beginning of the book, which read like a non-fiction version of The Help. Anne worked long hours for racist white women, one of whom even partially paid her by giving her pails of old milk that she had let the cats drink out of first.
I didn't realize that Anne was such a prominent part of the movement in Mississippi. She worked right alongside Medgar Evers in Jackson before his murder. This famous picture of a sit-in at the Woolworth's lunch counter is actually Anne and some of her white friends.
Coming of Age in Mississippi was a fascinating, gritty read. It ended on a decidedly pessimistic, despairing note and I would have loved for it to end in on an uplifting note of hope. But that's me being an idealist. It's important to have a first-person account like this. It's a testimony of what Anne and hundreds of other brave Civil Rights workers went through and fought for in the pursuit of Freedom.
Grade: 3.5/5 stars