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Coming of Age in Mississippi | Quotes

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1.

Now all of a sudden they were white ... their whiteness made them better than me.


Anne Moody, Part 1, Chapter 3

Young Anne struggles to determine what it means to be white and what it means to be black. Why are these classifications so important? How will they affect her life? A sense of ranking and social hierarchy is central to her developing self-image, and she's discovering whiteness makes people "better" and blackness "worse," for reasons she can't determine.

2.

The faces of the whites had written on them some strange yearning.


Anne Moody, Part 1, Chapter 8

At the homecoming parade, Anne notices older white residents full of nostalgia or "yearning" for the past as they sing an old Southern ballad with references to "darkies." The South's past is marked by slavery and acute racial division. White Southerners romanticize this version of the South and see it as part of their heritage. Anne senses they might cling to this lifestyle at the expense of the younger generation of black Southerners.

3.

Just do your work like you don't know nothing.


Mama, Part 2, Chapter 10

The death of Emmett Till terrifies Mississippi's black teenagers and stuns Anne out of complacency. But her mother urges her to pretend she hasn't heard about it, for her own safety. Anne repeats the phrase in her head, and she knows it's an easy survival tactic. This warning shows how Anne both craves knowledge of current events and fears what this knowledge might mean for her.

4.

The fear of being killed just because I was black ... was the worst of my fears.


Anne Moody, Part 2, Chapter 10

As a young woman Anne learns more about what blackness means in Mississippi. Her life has often been defined by fear, and she spends much of the book struggling to reconcile her fear with her hope. This quote also reveals the stark realities of black life under Jim Crow to the reader. The characters live under the real threat of death every day, and this threat makes them both cautious and courageous.

5.

I was sick of pretending, sick of selling my feelings for a dollar a day.


Anne Moody, Part 2, Chapter 11

This quote shows Anne realizing her dignity is more important than her earning potential. She knows her employment could keep her family alive. But she needs to keep her soul alive, too. After the crimes she's seen in Centreville, she finds it impossible to work for the perpetrators. She will either have to keep "pretending" or disrupt the town's way of life.

6.

Little by little it was getting harder and harder for me not to speak out.


Anne Moody, Part 2, Chapter 13

This quote displays a turning point in Anne's psychological and moral development. She decides the kind of person she wants to be—fearless and vocal. She decides the consequences of staying silent—surviving, but not being true to herself—might be worse than the consequences of speaking her mind.

7.

I had found something outside myself that gave meaning to my life.


Anne Moody, Part 3, Chapter 21

This quote describes how the civil rights movement is personally important to Moody. She's tried to find meaning in religion, family, work, academics, and romantic love. None of these aspects of her life have been sufficient. Some, like religion and family, have failed her. The movement is a chance for her to make things better for a new generation and to leave a legacy. It helps her define herself on the cusp of adulthood, a crucial time when she's still determining her life path.

8.

The whites had a disease, an incurable disease in its final stage.


Anne Moody, Part 4, Chapter 22

The metaphor of racism and white supremacy as "an incurable disease" helps Anne think differently about the mob mentality and physical assaults at the Woolworth's sit-in. The disease is an epidemic, larger than any individual's racist acts, and it's deep-seated and spreading quickly. Anne thinks white supremacy may be "incurable" and she doubts the movement can heal the disease with small gestures; she's skeptical about efforts like the freedom vote.

9.

The federal government was ... responsible for most of the segregation, discrimination, and poverty.


Anne Moody, Part 4, Chapter 23

Anne's recently moved to rural Canton, Mississippi, and learns how county allotments of land favor white farmers and keep black farmers in debt. The systemic racism of the government's land allocation is designed to keep black families subordinate, dependent, and poor. Anne believes the movement needs to address the causes of this discrimination as well as treating the symptoms. She sees how racism goes beyond individual violent acts and racial slurs—it's embedded and enforced in government policy.

10.

What am I free to do?


Anne Moody, Part 4, Chapter 23

Black people have been "free" of slavery for nearly a century. But Anne makes a crucial distinction in a speech to teenage CORE activists, saying this legal freedom doesn't extend to the realities of everyday life. Though black people can vote, the government restricts their attempts to register. Though black people can be employed, the only jobs available offer low wages, long hours, and harsh working conditions. She suggests the activists challenge any white person who says they're free already, and make them think about what freedom really means.

11.

We had 'dreamers' instead of leaders leading us.


Anne Moody, Part 4, Chapter 24

One of Moody's main criticisms of the civil rights movement is its emphasis on abstract goals or "dreams" over practical work, risk, and commitment. Here she responds to Dr. King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington. A true leader, Anne feels, wouldn't have time to dream; he'd be working to make the dream possible, like the tireless young activists in Mississippi.

12.

Nonviolence has served its purpose.


Anne Moody, Part 4, Chapter 25

Civil rights activists often disagreed on how to achieve change. Many followed Dr. King's philosophy of nonviolent direct action, such as sit-ins and rallies. Anne participated in many of these actions herself. But police respond with violence, and white supremacists bomb a church. Anne predicts the white reaction will only get more deadly. Times have changed and the movement should change with them and fight back. She believes, along with other activists such as Malcolm X, only a more aggressive response can defend black lives.

13.

I will be my own God, living my life as I see fit.


Anne Moody, Part 4, Chapter 25

As Anne matures she comes to reject the religion of her childhood. She can't reconcile the idea of a powerful and loving God with the evil she sees in the world. The true criminals are never punished, Anne notices, while the good suffer. She declares independence from the standards dictating her life—the rules of the Jim Crow South and the dictates of nonviolence. Anne's rejection of God is a break from her past, and a way to come into her own as an adult.

14.

A world this evil ... should be black, blind, and deaf, and without any feelings.


Anne Moody, Part 4, Chapter 27

After the atrocities Anne's witnessed, she wonders how the world around her appears so tranquil and calm. Anne consistently wonders how others can ignore the truth about the world around them. She imagines a world with "no color to be seen"—a dark and emotionless world, and a world where skin color doesn't matter.

15.

I knew that there was something to singing, suffering, and Soul.


Anne Moody, Part 4, Chapter 29

Though Anne has doubts about the direction of the movement, she's touched by the singing of the older adults at the CORE march. The scene provides a counterpoint to the songs at the Homecoming parade in Part 1, Chapter 8. Now the singers are black, the song is spiritual, and the mood isn't nostalgic for the past but hopeful for the future. Anne sees how common suffering can unify oppressed people, and shared cultural traditions can give them hope.

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