Coming of Age in Mississippi | Study Guide

Anne Moody

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Course Hero, "Coming of Age in Mississippi Study Guide," October 16, 2017, accessed December 18, 2017, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Coming-of-Age-in-Mississippi/.

Coming of Age in Mississippi | Part 4, Chapter 26 : The Movement | Summary

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Summary

Anne uses the ice cream and cake meant for her birthday party to throw a celebration and rally for local high school students. She invites students to spread the word about an upcoming clothing drive.

When Anne sees hundreds of people in line for clothes at the drive, she knows these are the same residents who can't look at her in the street and who refuse to register to vote. She becomes angry. Clothing-drive recipients won't write their names and addresses down for CORE, believing CORE will "trick" them into voting. Anne realizes the desperate need for clothing and thinks so much poverty is shameful in the wealthy country of America. People continue to come by the office hoping for clothes, but none will register to vote. Anne thinks CORE will need to try a different tactic in Canton.

Violence increases. A white farmer rapes a black female employee, and soon young black women are being openly assaulted. Teenage labor in the cotton fields is "an institution" in Canton. Black students' schools even close early for two months so the students can work, and their families are still poor. Despite the violence, children return to work picking cotton. Anne fears "the threats would stop, and action would begin." She knows the Ku Klux Klan is busy.

Teenagers continue to participate in the movement, even though the principal of their school discourages their work and threatens to expel them. Police surround the CORE Freedom House and harass its residents. Anne and the other female house residents, Lenora and Doris, can hardly sleep. They're chased by drunk white people through the country at night. Doris and Lenora get guns for protection, which only makes Anne more fearful. Anne notices how Doris has changed since they met, and realizes "what fear can do to a person." She sometimes distrusts Lenora but knows doubt in other workers will destroy the unity of the movement. White people, she knows, "were smart enough to make our own minds work against each other."

Meanwhile a coalition of Mississippi civil rights groups, called COFO, gathers and discusses plans to run a "freedom ballot" in the upcoming state election. The ballot will enter civil rights leaders Aaron Henry and Ed King in the running for governor, and rally the black vote to support the candidates. Anne thinks the "false campaign" is wasted energy. Black Southerners haven't registered to vote so far. Why should they care now? An older civil rights worker agrees the "freedom vote" will only be an unofficial election and not a real step ahead for black voters. But when the majority of activists support the "freedom election," Anne reluctantly gets on board.

After failing to explain the election to older citizens, Anne realizes the movement's only hope is young people "with minds that are susceptible to change." She's also optimistic about Madison County's efforts to send black farmers to a national conference, where they can learn ways to gain economic stability.

A white cop with "hating eyes" begins to follow Anne, trapping her and Doris on the top of a carnival ride until they fear for their lives. Anne returns home to another letter from Mama pleading with her to leave Mississippi.

Anne decides to spend some time in the country with Doris at Mrs. Chinn's parents' farm. Doris suggests taking guns so the two can hunt, and Anne reluctantly agrees the protection will be useful. But Doris really wants to get in some "target practice." Anne remembers communicating with God in the woods as a child. She thinks "God changed as the individual changed"—her conception of God has changed drastically since she's seen how much pious black people suffer and how whites are never punished.

When Anne goes to Jackson to stay with Doris's parents, she's shown a Klan "blacklist" with her name and picture, along with the names of other civil rights activists. Anne calls the blacklist "one of the most horrible scares in my life." She returns to Canton wary and frightened. She decides to leave the movement for a while.

The day of the freedom vote, Anne and other volunteers carry around ballot boxes. Anne is unimpressed by the final turnout. Although more black Mississippians voted than ever before, the number of voters still isn't even close to the number of black Mississippians of voting age. Anne thinks registering all of them will take "a lifetime." Besides, "the Vote" won't end black people's suffering in the South.

Anne's coworkers try to convince her to stay. She wonders if she should leave the movement for good. But as she sits in a desegregated bus station waiting room, she realizes the progress the movement has made and knows she'll never truly leave.

Analysis

Some of Anne's biggest frustrations are with the black community sabotaging its own liberation. She sees black people again praising the generosity of the white community by thanking the "white folks in the North" for giving them clothes. While black residents blame CORE for racist violence, they take advantage of their aid without seeing how the giveaways tie into CORE's mission. She refuses to see black people merely as victims, but as free agents who make choices. Yet she knows how the choices are hampered.

This chapter asks: If nonviolence isn't the answer, what is? Economic opportunity is part of the solution, since poverty discourages independence. Larger government allotments for black farmers would go a long way toward economic stability, but this change is still a long way off.

Self-defense may be a temporary solution. Anne considers whether joining the enemies, even with inferior firepower, isn't the best way to keep everyone alive. The freedom vote presents another possible solution—the simple, empowering act of going to the ballot box, even if the vote doesn't lead to policy change.

One SNCC activist recalls the 1963 Freedom Vote in Mississippi as "a test of whether we can really get people to put their bodies on the line for the right to vote." The symbolic act would pave the way for black-led political organizations. As Anne and other activists point out, rights and freedoms only matter if they are real. Black people don't just need to be seen voting, they need to participate in democracy like every other citizen.

The chapter also demonstrates how the fear of violence can be just as psychologically damaging as actual violence. Anne's stress translates to physical symptoms. She begins to distrust her colleagues at every turn. She realizes how strong the power of fear conditioning is, especially after centuries of white oppression. "Mr. Charlie's dos and don'ts" are ingrained in Canton's older black community.

Beyond the challenges of changing minds, Anne faces the extra vulnerability of being a woman. The white cop toys with her to break down her defenses. Anne finally gives in to Doris's idea of carrying weapons to the country, showing her own resolves melting in the face of fright and constant preparation for attack. After the mixed success of the freedom vote, she wonders if the small victories are worth her presence on the blacklist of the most notorious racist organization in America.

Then she sits in a white bus station waiting room beside a white civil rights worker. The last time she sat in the white waiting room she faced threats and intimidation. Now she is experiencing an incremental change, but still, proof change is possible. She sees the kind of future the movement could bring if it succeeds. She'll always have the desire for freedom.

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