Coming of Age in Mississippi | Study Guide

Anne Moody

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Coming of Age in Mississippi | Part 2, Chapter 17 : High School | Summary

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Summary

Soon after Anne moves in, Emma is shot trying to defend a neighbor from an abusive husband. Anne spends time with the neighbor's children in the aftermath of the accident, and sees how much pressure the 12-year-old son Leon endures to support his family. She remembers her own impoverished childhood. Emma recovers but grows irritable and makes demands on Anne.

Anne transfers to Johnson High and is recruited for the basketball team, where she becomes one of the best players. The school system in her county remains racially segregated. The county high schools serving black students consolidate into a new school building. While many students and teachers praise the white people who "[gave] us such a big beautiful school" Anne knows the school is worse than the white students' facilities.

Immediately after her high school graduation she plans to leave for New Orleans. She's shocked to see Mama at the graduation ceremony and feels remorse for how she treated her mother. After the ceremony Anne reconnects with her siblings and Mama, promising to visit them before she leaves Mississippi.

Analysis

Anne knows firsthand how much the oppression of poverty shapes children's lives in Mississippi. But seeing young Leon look like "an old worried man," hearing him compare his work to slavery, and seeing how familiar the children are with strife and violence, she knows the tenuousness of rural black life in the South can't last much longer. Something permanent has to change on a structural level.

Emma feels the same way Anne does. Who wouldn't be angry in her neighbor's situation? If black people in the South could earn a living wage, they'd be less likely to take their anger out on their families. When Anne works in the civil rights movement she'll advocate programs giving black people jobs and economic opportunity.

Systemic racism has followed Anne everywhere, and it continues to follow her to school. The "1954 Supreme Court Decision" Moody references is Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which declared racially segregated schools unconstitutional. Though the case was a step in the direction of racial equality, it didn't immediately desegregate the nation's public schools, especially not in the South. The Wilkinson County school district, where Anne attends, provide a "separate" school Anne observes as hardly "equal" to white students' schools. The "biggest Tom," or the black principal most eager to submit to white people, gets the best job. When school officials enter a subpar school building and immediately begin praising white donors for giving them anything at all, Anne sees how insidious oppression is.

Her brief reconciliation with her mother closes the Centreville chapter of her life. Anne's family will remain important to her, but their role in her life will change as she becomes more committed to her ideals.

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