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Coming of Age in Mississippi | Study Guide

Anne Moody

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Part 4: The Movement, Chapter 23

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Part 4: The Movement, Chapter 23 of Anne Moody's memoir Coming of Age in Mississippi.

Coming of Age in Mississippi | Part 4, Chapter 23 : The Movement | Summary



Tired of the infighting in Jackson's activist community, Anne volunteers to go to the more dangerous Madison County to work with CORE on voter registration. She arrives in the city of Canton in Madison County, optimistic because of the county's high black population. She meets black community leaders C.O. Chinn and Mrs. Chinn, and moves into a home for CORE workers called the Freedom House.

Canton's new CORE office has already been robbed. The movement is mostly made up of teenagers, since adults "didn't want to be bothered." Anne thinks most black people are "brainwashed" or economically dependent on their white employers. She learns independent black cotton farmers in Madison County are "practically like sharecroppers" and constantly in debt.

Anne gives a rousing speech to the teenage CORE members in Canton. She tells them they're not free just because the Constitution gives them rights—they need to take those rights for themselves and "give it meaning." Anne urges the teens to get more adults involved. She wants to summon the town's "Saturday night energy" for a constructive purpose. But she quickly learns black Madison County residents aren't interested in voting.

Soon five black Canton teenagers are shot by a white service station owner. The shooting provokes many black parents to keep their teens home from CORE. Anne, increasingly on edge, is frightened by a visit from white FBI agents. After a pregnant black woman is shot, black residents begin to distrust CORE. Support and funds run out. At a NAACP rally in Jackson, an exhausted Anne makes an emotional speech pleading for help. Several people step in, bringing food and volunteers to Canton. More black people go to the courthouse to vote, although most fail the voting test on small technicalities.

As the movement grows again, white people continue their violence. When a CORE volunteer's brother hears white men in a café threaten to "kill all them damn freedom workers," the volunteers living in the CORE house hide out in the woods. They hear a car arrive at the house and leave. After the threat a group of men follow the CORE members as bodyguards. Chinn, a man so powerful in town he's feared by whites, loses his business.

The CORE members become increasingly frustrated with the apathetic black population in Canton. Attempting to get more church support, CORE meets with several town ministers. Though many of the ministers are "Toms" unwilling to challenge the white power structure, CORE's been making inroads with some important clergy members, and CORE volunteers earn some time at the pulpit. Canton's black community begins to support CORE. Anne feels the return of "that good old Movement spirit."


The previous chapter showed the highly public rallies and riots of Jackson's urban environment, the civil rights hotbed of the South. This chapter highlights the challenges Anne faces in a smaller, rural community, not as well-known but just as crucial to reach. She has proven herself in the civil rights movement. As a daughter of sharecroppers, she knows what working black farmers endure.

"Mr. Charlie" and "Miss Ann" are terms Anne uses as a shorthand for white male and female authorities respectively. "Mr. Charlie" can be a white boss, or white leadership in general, but the term implies a leader "Uncle Tom" is eager to please. The "Mr." is a sardonic reference to black people addressing white people formally as superiors. "Mr. Charlie" restricts black independence, and Anne thinks black workers shouldn't depend on him any longer.

But broadening what black people feel they deserve, and giving them the confidence to demand it, doesn't come easily. The federal government keeps black farmers' financial allotments low. A black gas station attendant can't afford to leave his job working for violent white employers. Registrar tests deliberately fail black would-be voters on technicalities. Many young black people don't even make it to the registrar, since they can be shot for trying to vote. Since most black residents have "borrowed money on their property" they can't use property to post bond for an arrested community member, which means longer jail terms. The world seems to make black freedom impossible at every turn. Now what?

As Anne explains, they have to free themselves. Anne's speech to the CORE teenagers is a statement of purpose for the civil rights movement and a key moment of growth for her character. She wants her generation to feel empowered and see themselves as agents of change. She has even challenged the Klan members outside. Her repeated use of "Mr. Charlie" shows how black people have been conditioned to respect and grovel before white people and take whatever they're given without asking for more. They need to challenge this conditioning within themselves before the work can begin.

Though she's convinced young people are the heart of the movement, Anne knows adults have more power and influence and may be central to policy change. White antagonists know the potential of adult involvement, too. Anne analyzes the tactics of the opposition, learns the thought process of the "Toms" or black leaders opposed to civil rights, and plans to defeat "Mr. Charlie's game." She's aided by Chinn, who takes local black people to task for not helping the movement. He shows her how to use her suffering to motivate others, rather than discourage them.

But racism and anti-racist work are taking a toll on Anne's body. Her clothing, which she normally puts care and effort into, gets sidelined and she wears the same outfit for weeks. Mama tells Anne she might end up sacrificing her labor and even her life for nothing. Will the payoff be worth the extraordinary effort?

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