Coming of Age in Mississippi | Study Guide

Anne Moody

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Coming of Age in Mississippi | Part 4, Chapter 22 : The Movement | Summary

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Summary

In February of the next school year, Anne's excited to invite Mama to an NAACP convention. Mama sends Anne a long letter forbidding her to go and describing the threats Mama's received in Centreville. Instead Anne becomes even more determined to attend. She sensed changes on her last visit home; people in town are open about their dislike for Tougaloo. Mama warns Anne may never be able to return.

Anne enjoys the convention and gets autographs from several black celebrities. Without the credits to graduate, she stays on campus for the summer to keep working for the NAACP. John Salter, the Tougaloo professor in charge of campus NAACP activities, plans a sit-in at Woolworth's lunch counter. Anne agrees to be the spokesperson for the sit-in, since she has "nothing to lose."

With two other students, Pearlena and Memphis, Anne sits at the segregated Woolworth's lunch counter and asks to be served. The waitresses panic. The media soon arrives, and reporters ask the students questions. Anne says "All we want is service." White spectators mock the sit-in participants and chant "anti-Negro slogans." Then white men throw Memphis, Anne, and Pearlena to the floor, kicking Memphis in the head. Pearlena and Anne return to their seats. Joan Trumpauer and John Salter join the sit-in along with other activists. Spectators hit the participants and cover them with spray paint, ketchup, and mustard. The president of Tougaloo College finally escorts the participants out, where Reverend Ed King, a faculty member at Tougaloo, drives them to the NAACP headquarters.

Anne thinks Mississippi whites would "kill to preserve" their segregated way of life, and she knows the killing's just started. She feels the white Mississippi residents have a "sickness" which may be incurable.

She attends a packed rally the night of the sit-in, where Medgar Evers urges the crowd "to unite in a massive offense against segregation." The crowd leaves with new determination. Anne knows, as the first black Centreville resident to openly demonstrate against racism, she's putting her family in danger. She fears for her family members.

The next few days are full of public demonstrations and rallies. A delegation of black ministers presents a list of demands to Jackson's mayor. Their demands include integration of public facilities and better job opportunities for black people. When the mayor won't take action, the ministers decide to show "we mean business." Sit-ins continue, and many participants are arrested. Anne leads workshops teaching demonstrators how to protect themselves in a physical confrontation. Jackson is now in the national news spotlight.

Some civil rights activists work as "diverters" during a demonstration, leading the cops (who are always in front of the NAACP building) on a "wild-goose chase" so the demonstrators can go downtown safely. After helping divert the cops from a post office demonstration, Anne and other activists go to the post office for a pray-in. The police captain threatens them with arrest. The 14 activists know if they disperse, the mob of whites will harm them. They have no choice but to go to jail.

Anne befriends the other female college students in her cell. They learn over 400 high school demonstrators were arrested the same day for singing freedom songs in class. The high schoolers are being held in an "open compound" at the fairgrounds and getting sick. Anne tries and fails to join them at the fairgrounds.

When Anne gets home she has letters from Mama and Adline, saying several of Anne's family members have been threatened and attacked. Adline is angry with Anne for getting involved in the movement. Anne feels helpless.

Jackson's become "the hotbed of racial demonstrations in the South" with most black college and high school students protesting. Mass rallies and mass arrests happen every night. Leader Medgar Evers is becoming Mississippi's Martin Luther King.

But soon Evers is shot dead in his driveway. Anne and a fellow SNCC worker try to recruit students at Jackson State for a protest march, and Anne's disgusted by the students' apathy. She decides "Jail was the only place I could think in."

The cops are ready for the protesters, and the protest march quickly turns violent. Anne and several other demonstrators are arrested and thrown into a crowded, heated van with no air. The demonstrators are taken to the fairgrounds, where other students tell them more stories of police violence. Anne compares the cops to Nazi soldiers and can't believe this is happening in America.

After Anne's release from her second arrest she attends Evers's funeral. Thousands of black people attend, and she hopes they've been inspired to join the movement. Many angry attendees join a spontaneous protest march. When the cops use fire hoses on the marchers, the crowd retaliates by throwing bottles.

Each racial justice organization in Jackson gets threatened after Evers's death. The organizations disagree on how to proceed. SNCC and CORE want more protests; the NAACP wants to focus on voter registration. The NAACP wins out. The few ministers who still attend demonstrations are terrified, and the rallies become less frequent.

Anne joins an "integrated church-visiting team." The group is kicked out of one white church, but another white church welcomes them. Anne wonders if the white worshippers are praying to the same God she is.

Analysis

Moody uses the term "the Movement" as shorthand for the many civil rights organizations active in the South and beyond, united by a common goal. The word movement also implies a move, a change, or a shift.

Since Anne's committed herself to activism, she can see the consequences more clearly. After a lifetime of wishing Mama could stand up for herself, Anne realizes where Mama's fear comes from and why Mama demanded Anne know her place around white people. White Southerners will do almost anything to defend Jim Crow.

Protesters in the early days of the movement used nonviolent direct action techniques, or strategic nonviolent actions of civil disobedience—including sit-ins in public places—meant to engage the oppressor in dialogue. Dr. King was a known advocate of nonviolence. The Jackson, Mississippi, sit-in at Woolworth's was part of the Birmingham Campaign, a series of sit-ins, marches, and other peaceful demonstrations across the South in 1963.

Despite a handful of white and black supporters who join the group, Anne and her fellow activists face overwhelming hatred. The "hangman's noose" a white boy creates out of rope is a reference to lynching or hanging in the South, still a very present fear for the black protesters. The chant of "Communists" was a way to call the protesters un-American. The Red Scare and fears of communism were consuming America at the time.

Anne's ideas about racism begin to change. She no longer sees white supremacy as confined to the actions of any individual or group. It has much deeper roots. It's an institution, a mindset, a "disease" they'll need to heal. As Anne imagines the breadth and depth of work ahead of her, she knows the disease is in its "final stage." Something has to change, and her generation has to change it.

Moody's use of verbal irony mocks the illusion of white propriety and dignity. Even though "police brutality was the last thing wanted in good, respectable Jackson," the cops are consistently squelching protests with brutality. The cops' wives would be scandalized if they knew their husbands were "peeping" on the black female prisoners. Moody shows how Mississippi's white people are completely unlike the respectable image they portray to the public.

Mayor Thompson's idea of "good colored citizens" who avoid demonstrations is reminiscent of Mrs. Burke's idea of "good" black people who don't make trouble. The "Uncle Tom" schools in Mississippi will expel black students for "almost anything," even demanding equal rights. Part of what the civil rights movement is fighting is the ingrained idea of "respectability politics," or black people succeeding by conforming to white ideas of "respectability" and good behavior.

The pressure to risk arrest shows differing expectations within the movement. Some activists don't want to lose jobs or opportunities after an arrest. Others think the only true way to show courage is to break the law. Anne senses where the movement's true leadership will come from—the young people, who can build a sense of community and face prison without fear. Meanwhile the ministers who lead the movement chafe under the harsh realities of arrest.

The realities are even difficult for the young people to handle. Moody twice compares southern police brutality to "Nazi Germany" and to Hitler maintaining his regime through fear. The use of garbage trucks and paddy wagons shows how the white cops consider black lives an intrusion and inconvenience. The fairgrounds used as a jail are meant for cattle. The indignities hurt as much as the violence does.

The movement builds momentum by responding to each threat with renewed action, like paralyzing the economic nerve center of Jackson through a boycott. A pattern begins to emerge in civil rights activism. After a uniting event, rally, or positive turning point for the movement, white antagonists respond with violence. Activists then become afraid and withdraw. For instance, just when it seems Mississippi is about to unite, Evers is shot. Anne sees the pattern. Her doubts about nonviolence begin to surface. What other response is there to Evers's assassination, she wonders, than going to the streets and "raising hell"?

White people use psychological violence to maintain their power as well. They sow division between civil rights organizations, knowing infighting can easily break up the movement's unity and strength. Anne is critical of the movement's tactics throughout the book, analyzing what their tactics are and what she truly thinks will work.

Anne does see enough hope to continue. The tragedy of Evers's death galvanizes black critics of the movement to mourn him in the streets. The church-visiting team is invited back to a white church. Anne's faith is changing as her worldview changes; she isn't sure what role religion plays in her life. Since churches are central gathering places for black Southern communities, and congregants have positive associations with churches, activist teams are using churches as a starting point. They know the sway ministers have over their congregations. Though Anne knows the social purpose of church, she begins to wonder if religion is as much of a roadblock to civil rights as it is an asset.

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