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Coming of Age in Mississippi | Plot Summary

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Summary

Part 1: Childhood

Anne Moody, named Essie Mae Moody at birth, lives in rural Mississippi in the 1940s with her mother, Mama, and her younger siblings. Her father leaves the family when she's young. Her mother takes a series of low-paid housekeeping jobs, the only work available to black women. Soon young Essie is working, too. She's baptized in church and excels in school, balancing schoolwork with housekeeping and babysitting for white families.

Meanwhile Mama tries to earn the acceptance of her second husband Raymond's haughty family, and Essie attempts to figure out why white people get better treatment and nicer things. When Essie works for an overtly racist employer, she learns to stand up for herself. She also changes her name to Anne after a mix-up on her birth certificate.

Part 2: High School

Essie, now Anne, learns about Emmett Till's murder and the work of the NAACP. She despises the people in her small town for letting racist assaults go unchallenged. During the summer she finds work in New Orleans, Louisiana, and learns more about the world. She gains more courage, standing up to her racist employer and planning to leave home for good once she graduates. But after another racially motivated murder in town and an emotional fight with Raymond, Anne leaves home sooner than planned. She stays with her father and stepmother, then enrolls in Natchez College on a basketball scholarship.

Part 3: College

At Natchez Anne begins to challenge rules she views as unfair. She leads a boycott of the campus dining hall after discovering unsanitary conditions in the kitchen. She transfers to Tougaloo College and is initially nervous about white teachers, but quickly finds friends. A roommate invites her to join the NAACP and she eagerly accepts, even though she knows her affiliation with the civil rights movement will put her family at risk. Anne gets involved with the student activist group SNCC and starts planning demonstrations and rallies. She and a friend sit on the white side of the bus station, where white observers become violent.

Part 4: The Movement

Anne participates in a sit-in at the Jackson, Mississippi, Woolworth's lunch counter. A white mob attacks her and her fellow protesters. Jackson becomes the South's hotbed of civil rights demonstrations, and Anne is a key grassroots organizer in the movement. She is arrested several times. She attends Medgar Evers's funeral in Jackson and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s historical speech in Washington. Anne believes in the movement but is critical of its shortcomings and thinks young people show more leadership potential than older activists. Meanwhile Anne's family pleads with her to leave her work, since they're being threatened regularly.

Anne moves to the small Mississippi town of Canton to work for the civil rights organization CORE. The organization emphasizes black voter registration, but many black Canton residents risk losing their jobs or being shot if they vote, and they're hostile to CORE. After several violent incidents, including a church bombing in Alabama, Anne questions the movement's focus on nonviolent direct action. She takes a brief break from organizing work and reconnects with her family, but soon returns to the movement. Anne graduates from Tougaloo and joins a group of activists headed for Washington. She reflects on the crimes she's seen in Mississippi and wonders about the movement's future.

Coming of Age in Mississippi Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction

Introduction

1 Essie discovers white children are treated differently.

Rising Action

2 Essie changes her name to Anne.

3 Anne learns about the Emmett Till murder and the NAACP.

4 The Taplin family's home is burned in Centreville.

5 Anne leaves Centreville for good.

6 Anne joins the Tougaloo chapter of the NAACP.

Climax

7 Anne participates in the Woolworth's sit-in in Jackson.

Falling Action

8 Anne moves to Canton to continue her civil rights work.

Resolution

9 Anne joins the Summer Project and travels to Washington.

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