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Anne Moody | Biography

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Rural Mississippi Roots

Anne Moody was named Essie Mae Moody at her birth on September 15, 1940. The oldest of Fred and Elnire Moody's nine children, Moody was born into a family of poor African American sharecroppers in Centreville, Mississippi. As a child she cleaned the homes of white neighbors to support her family.

The academically talented Moody went to Mississippi's Natchez Junior College on a basketball scholarship. She later transferred to Tougaloo College near Jackson, Mississippi, where she earned her bachelor of science degree in 1964.

Leadership in the Civil Rights Movement

While attending Tougaloo, Moody found meaningful work in the American civil rights movement. She'd heard of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as a child. Though she knew white citizens organized campaigns against the NAACP, and local NAACP activists were threatened and sometimes killed, Moody wanted to join and help bring about change. She achieved leadership roles in Mississippi chapters of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Moody organized and participated in many sit-ins, marches, and rallies for civil rights. She worked closely with well-known black and white activists.

She famously joined a racially mixed group of protesters, including Salter and Trumpauer, in a 1963 sit-in at a segregated Woolworth's lunch counter. A sit-in is a kind of protest in which the demonstrators occupy a public place such as a restaurant and refuse to leave until their demands are met. The sit-in turned aggressive, with a white mob attacking and pouring condiments on the protesters. One news photographer took a widely circulated photograph of Moody and her group enduring the attacks.

Moody distanced herself from the movement in the late 1960s, though she continued to identify as "first and foremost an activist." She doubted the civil rights movement's direction and its chances of achieving lasting change. "We were like an angry dog on a leash that had turned on its master," she said in a statement. "It could bark and howl ... but the master was always in control."

Work and Life in New York

Moody moved to Ithaca, New York, after her 1964 graduation to work as Cornell University's civil rights project coordinator. She later moved to New York City and began writing an autobiography. Coming of Age in Mississippi, which describes Moody's childhood struggles and her work in the civil rights movement, is her best-known book and one of only three she wrote.

Moody lived and wrote quietly in New York City for many years. She was a counselor for a city antipoverty program, and in 1972 she held an artist residency in Berlin, Germany. In 1967 she married Austin Straus, whom she later divorced. They had one son named Sascha.

Writing, Awards, and Legacy

Coming of Age in Mississippi earned multiple awards, including the National Council of Christians and Jews' Brotherhood Award and the National Library Association's Best Book of the Year Award in 1969. She followed the book with a sequel focusing on her mother, Farewell to Too Sweet, in 1974. Moody also wrote Mr. Death, a 1975 collection of short stories about mortality. Her short story "New Hopes for the Seventies" earned Mademoiselle magazine's silver medal.

She returned to Mississippi later in life but never truly felt comfortable there. She passed away on February 5, 2015, at age 74.

Moody's sister Adline says, "I'm very proud of her for what she did. She made it better for me." Moody said the "universal fight for human rights" goes beyond the African American struggle and is carried on by "every ethnic and racial minority, every suppressed and exploited person." Coming of Age in Mississippi remains one of the central texts of the civil rights movement.

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