Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Coming of Age in Mississippi

That is paint, not bird poop, on the table.
Author: Anne Moody

Category: I’ve heard of this book here and there for years. This past summer, one of the teen volunteers where I work told me that this book was on her summer reading list. She said it was really good…so I decided to check it out.

My thoughts: It started off a little slow, but eventually I really got into this book and I really liked it. Like Between Shades of Gray , Coming of Age in Mississippi made me cry. It ended up being a very gripping read, and renewed my admiration for those who were on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement. It was a movement of young people, and Anne Moody was one of them. The victories they won were fought with actual blood, sweat, and tears.

Anne Moody grew up in rural Mississippi in the 1950s. And she heard about brutality toward blacks throughout the state, concerning people she knew, like a classmate who was beaten up by whites because he was suspected of making salacious phone calls to a white woman, and people she didn’t, like Emmett Till, who was murdered when Moody was a teenager. When she went to college at Tougaloo, she became involved in the Movement, first by joining the NAACP. She participated in sit-ins, and was beaten and insulted by angry whites. This reminded me of something that Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns said in her lecture at the University of Memphis back in February. She said that so many whites were so invested in keeping blacks down that they missed some of their own potential—because when you keep someone down, you spend so much energy and waste so much time doing that and nothing else.

One part of the book that made me sad was when Moody mentioned Medgar Evers. He spoke at her college and at meetings she went to while living in Jackson, Mississippi. And she saw him the last night of his life. I really admire Medgar Evers, and I don’t think he gets enough credit for all he did during the Civil Rights Movement. He investigated Emmett Till’s murder and helped Till’s family get out of Mississippi after the men who killed him were found not-guilty. He was truly in the thick of things, and it cost him his life. And, unfortunately, I had never heard of him until I saw news reports about his killer finally being convicted, in 1993.

Anne and her fellow civil rights workers were under a constant threat for their lives. People they knew had been killed, and they were verbally and physically attacked all because they were trying to get American citizens to register to vote. This book really reinforces the danger people faced so that people like me could do something as basic as vote in an election or even walk into a store through the front door. I try to never forget that.

The narrative ends in 1964, right at the beginning of Freedom Summer, which would bring more bloodshed. Coming of Age in Mississippi, however, was published in 1968, the year Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Since that time, Medgar Evers’ killer has been convicted and died in prison. There are hate crime laws all over the country. But only last year, an unarmed black teenager, not unlike Emmett Till, was killed in Florida…At the end of her book, Moody wonders if the lyrics to “We Shall Overcome” will ever ring true. Some days, it seems to be so. Others…well, it makes you wonder.

Great passage: Before Emmett Till’s murder, I had known the fear of hunger, hell, and the Devil. But now there was a new fear known to me—the fear of being killed just because I was black. This was the worst of my fears. I know once I got food, the fear of starving to death would leave. I also was told that if I were a good girl, I wouldn’t have to fear the Devil or hell. But I didn’t know what one had to do or not do as a Negro not to be killed. Probably just being a Negro period was enough, I thought.

Up next: Night Film

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