Coming of Age in Mississippi | Study Guide

Anne Moody

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Coming of Age in Mississippi | Part 4, Chapter 25 : The Movement | Summary

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Summary

In the fall Anne becomes more aware of the poverty in the Canton community. She meets a family with young children unable to buy school clothes and recalls her own hungry childhood, thinking of "all that I had vowed to forget and overcome." She buys the children clothes and food with her first CORE check. Along with other CORE workers, Anne arranges for SNCC groups in other states to ship food and clothes to Canton.

Before her 23rd birthday Anne looks for a card from Adline or Mama—she has always gotten one before. This year she doesn't hear from them. Noticing Anne's disappointment, her fellow CORE workers arrange for a party. But on Anne's birthday the news of a church bombing in Alabama, and of the death of four little girls, shakes the CORE volunteer house.

Anne runs to a nearby graveyard and tries to talk to God. She's been taught about forgiveness all her life, and wonders if God will forgive the little girls' killers. She pledges never to be beaten by a white man again. She declares herself her "own God," and her life her own.

She returns and talks to fellow CORE member George. When George says he prays there's no more violence in Birmingham, Anne protests prayer is useless—black people have nothing but "a lot of religion" while white people have "all the dynamite." George is surprised Anne's lost faith in nonviolence, since she's "Nonviolent Miss Woolworth." But Anne's convinced "nonviolence is over" as a protest tactic. Its point was to show the world how bad race relations were in the South, but now the world can see clearly. The marchers on Washington wanted freedom, and white residents of Birmingham answered with a bomb. "What will be our answer to the bombing?" Anne asks. She thinks Martin Luther King's tactics of nonviolent protest may have worked for India (a reference to Indian leader Gandhi's nonviolent resistance methods), but they won't work in the South.

Anne questions all her beliefs after the bombing. George brings a woman named Lenora to stay at the CORE house so Anne will have some company. Anne welcomes Lenora but feels the black Canton residents will soon ask CORE to leave.

Analysis

This chapter highlights a different facet of CORE's struggle in Canton: black citizens who want food and clothing more than they want the vote. The chapter also shows Anne's grappling with her past and considering her future.

As much as Anne tries to escape her childhood, she never can, not really. Her personal history is always a part of her. She sees how history repeats itself on a collective scale, too. Children continue to face grinding poverty which compromises their education and health. Mama believes black people will always have "the same problems" and Anne's efforts are futile. At times Anne believes this herself.

What—or who—will break the cycle? Anne looks for people defying the odds. She donates money to the Canton children to continue a new cycle of generosity. She admires the town's young people who face economic and social consequences for their activism. Her interactions with the other Freedom House residents show she has a friendly adopted family in Canton, and wherever civil rights workers gather in the South. She's found the community she never truly found in Centreville.

In Anne's conversation with God her past and her future collide. She recalls learning about forgiveness, grace, and nonviolence as a girl in Part 1, going through religious rites of passage. Even then she had a strong moral code. She wanted wrongdoers to feel guilt. Now Anne's older and capable of critical thinking, and she sees no moral order or justice in the world. Religion to her involves subservience, meekness, and martyrdom, not courage and strength. It's one of the final steps in her transformation. Her faith is now in herself.

Anne is skeptical about the role of religion and Christianity in the civil rights movement. Leading activist Dr. King was a Baptist minister. Southern ministers have a big influence in the movement, both as civil rights advocates and leaders of black congregants. Anne's problem with the focus on religion is twofold. First, religious doctrine leads to a nonviolent approach to protest, centered on prayer rather than action, while the opposition uses more forceful and successful tactics. Second, religion anticipates heaven as a solution to problems, instead of encouraging the hard work to make change on Earth.

The civil rights movement has evolved to the point where it's seen as a formidable force, Anne thinks, and it needs to act like one. She feels the nonviolent demonstrations only prove black people will put their bodies in the streets only to be abused and brutalized. And the process after a violent attack is always the same—an ineffectual statement from powerful leaders, then another attack somewhere else. Again she sees history repeating itself.

The narrative doesn't sugarcoat Anne's depression or despair, or present her as relentlessly strong. Despite her self-determination, she's vulnerable. She doesn't know what will break the cycle of violence forever.

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