Anne Moody (September 15, 1940 – February 5, 2015) was an American author who wrote about her experiences growing up poor and black in rural Mississippi, and her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement through the NAACP, CORE and SNCC. Moody fought racism and segregation from when she was a little girl in Centreville, Mississippi, and continued throughout her adult life around the American South.
Moody, née Essie Mae Moody on September 15, 1940, was the oldest of eight children. After her parents split up when she was five or six years old, she grew up with her mother, Elmira aka Toosweet, in Centreville, Mississippi, while her father, Diddly, lived with his new wife, Emma, in nearby Woodville. At a young age Moody began working for white families in the area, cleaning their houses and helping their children with homework for only a few dollars a week, while earning perfect grades in school and helping at Mount Pleasant church. After graduating with honors from a segregated, all-black high school, she attended Natchez Junior College (also all black) in 1961 on a basketball scholarship.
Moody then moved on to Tougaloo College on an academic scholarship, to earn a bachelor's degree. She became involved with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). After graduation, Moody became a full-time worker in the civil rights movement, participating in a variety of different protests such as marches and a sit-ins. Moody participated in a sit-in at a Woolworth's lunch counter in Jackson, when a mob attacked her, fellow student Joan Trumpauer, and Tougaloo professor John Salter, Jr., joined her. The mob continuously poured flour, salt, sugar, and mustard on them, as depicted in a Jackson Daily News photograph. Two weeks after the sit-in, the Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers was assassinated outside his family home in Jackson. She was arrested in Jackson, Mississippi for attempting to protest inside of a post office with 13 other protesters, including Joan Trumpauer, Doris Erskine, Jeanette King, and Lois Chaffee.
In the 1960s, Anne Moody went underground. In other words, she moved to New York and lived quietly for decades. She enforced that she would be a part of no interviews during this time. It was in New York, where Anne Moody wrote "Coming of Age in Mississippi." During her quiet time she worked a number of non-writing jobs. Anne Moody wrote her second book, "Mr. Death," in 1975. "Mr. Death" was filled with short stories aimed at younger people to teach them the theme of mortality.
During Freedom Summer (1964), Moody worked for CORE in the town of Canton, Mississippi. In 1967, she married Austin Straus, a white man who was an NYU graduate student. In 1971, she gave birth to her son Sasha Strauss. In 1972, her family moved to Berlin after receiving a full-time scholarship, and they remained there until 1974 when they returned to America. Upon her return, she wrote a sequel to her autobiography, entitled Farewell to Too Sweet, which covered her life from 1974 to 1984, and in a 1985 interview with Debra Spencer she spoke of writing other books of memoirs, all of which remain unpublished. Moody was also involved in the anti-nuclear movement. She resettled in Mississippi in the early 1990s, though never felt at ease there, according to her sister Adline Moody.
Moody's autobiography, Coming of Age in Mississippi (1968), is acclaimed for its realistic portrayal of life for a young African American before and during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Her perspective of life in rural Mississippi is unique but not abnormal. Moody grew up in a household where her mother would suppress any idea of questioning the way things were or the concept of segregation. The book has been published in seven languages[when?] and sold around the world.
The beginning of Moody's autobiography starts off as Moody herself being 5 years old, to which she is referred to as Essie Mae. Essie Mae at this time lived on Mr. Carter's plantation with her mother, Toosweet, and her father, Diddly, and her one-year-old sister, Adline. Her uncle, George Lee, who was eight years old at the time, would watch over Essie Mae and Adline while Essie Mae's parents went to work. George Lee would neglect and abuse Essie Mae and Adline. He was eventually dismissed of babysitting Essie Mae and Adline after he started a fire in Essie Mae's family's two-bedroom shack. Essie's parent's relationship began to unravel after Diddly's friend, Bush, died. Diddly began seeing a lot more of Bush's wife, Florence. He began having an affair while Essie's mother was pregnant with their 3rd child, Junior. Toosweet eventually left Diddly, taking her children with her, and moved in with their Aunt Cindy; whom they stayed with till Essie Mae's mother found an affordable job and moved into a new home.
Later on, Essie's mother had her fourth child named James, with a soldier named Raymond. The soldier and Miss Pearl, the soldier's mother, took the baby in. They took the baby in, since Toosweet was unable to afford taking care of four children at the time. Essie and her family continued to visit James while Raymond was in town, but when he got called to service, they stopped visiting.
In chapter three, Essie began noticing how all of the white people she encountered had nicer homes, better food, and more privileges in general than the average black person. Essie had received her first job working for an old white lady named Mrs. Carter. She swept her porch for 75 cents and some milk. Shortly after, Essie started working for Mrs. Claiborne who paid her three dollars a week. Essie enjoyed working for Mrs. Claiborne, because this woman taught her new things and allowed Essie to eat dinner with her family. Essie's mother later gets pregnant with her fifth baby, which is also her second child with Raymond. Due to this news Raymond begins building a house for Essie and her family. Essie, and her mother, began choosing furniture for their newly built house.
Essie began playing for the basketball team at her school, she was the tallest on the team. So, consequently, the coach paid close attention to Essie. However, when the time came to play in her first basketball game, Essie froze, and her teammates laughed at her; she later quit. While living in her newly built house, built close to Miss Pearl's home, Essie noticed her mother had a difficult time being accepted into Raymond's family. Her Aunt Caroline later moved closer to the family, so her mother, Toosweet, would have someone to talk to. Essie's mother gave birth to her fifth child, they named her Virginia after Mrs. Johnson; however, she was called Jennie Ann.
In an attempt to be accepted into Raymond's family, Toosweet took herself and her children to Centreville Baptist Church, which was the church Raymond and his family went to. Toosweet went once, but stopped due to no progress in her relationship with Raymond's family, but Essie and her siblings kept going. Essie was later manipulated by her mother into going to their old church, Mount Pleasant. Essie was then baptized, even though she didn't want to be baptized at Mount Pleasant, due to her mother's manipulation.
In the 2nd winter Essie's family spent at their newly built home; Raymond decided he wanted to become a big-time farmer. In early March, Raymond went and bought a piece of land, as well as a mule, and began plowing the land and later planting cotton. Raymond got Essie and all of the other children to pick his cotton. Eventually, Essie had passed out from the intense heat and had to take a break from the hard labor.
In chapter seven, Essie started school again. Her and her family began picking pecans at Mr. Wheelers to get money for new school clothes. Shortly after, Essie found work at Miss Minnie's picking pecans and sweeping her floors. After pecan season ended, she began working for Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins. The Jenkins just had their second child named Johnny. Toosweet finally married Raymond, without his mother's approval, nor her consent. Shortly after their marriage, Raymond and Toosweet had their third child together, Raymond Jr., but they called him Jerry.
Essie Mae won a contest at school and was crowned homecoming queen. At the time she didn't have much money and did not want the hand-me-down gown that her employer, Mrs. Jenkins, offered her at the time. In her last effort, she wrote to her father. She met with her father for the first time in many years and was given a beautiful dress for the parade.
It was in chapter nine where Essie discovered her legal name. Essie received her birth certificate in the mail, which had the wrong name. The name that was on the certificate was Anne Moody. After a great deal of convincing, Toosweet allowed her to change her name, although Toosweet wasn't entirely on board.
Anne and her rival in class, Darlene, always fought to have the better grade. One day, their teacher went over everyone's final grade, Darlene and Anne were on the edge of their seats; waiting to see who had the best grade. However, they both fell short. Betty Posey, a classmate, received a better grade than the two girls.
Due to Anne's employers having their second child, they built a home further away and moved there shortly after. Anne found a job working for Mrs. Jenkins mother, Mrs. Burke, whom she didn't like. Anne took up this job, regardless of how much she disliked Mrs. Jenkins mother, because Toosweet had her fourth child with Raymond, and the baby was named Ralph. With another mouth to feed and Raymond being unemployed, Annie felt obligated to do her part.
Chapter ten was all in regard to Emmett Till's murder. Toosweet demanded that Anne act as if she didn't know a thing of Emmett Till's murder. When Anne would ask her mother about the boy's death, her mother refused to tell her. No one would explain to Anne about the murder of this dear boy. Until she asked her teacher, Mrs. Rice. Mrs. Rice explained a lot to Anne, not only about Emmett Till, but also about the NAACP. She was later fired, and Anne had no explanation as to why.
Since the Emmett Till murder, strange things began to happen near Anne's hometown. Anne's classmate was beaten, and an entire family was burned to death. Anne desperately needed to get away from it all, and so she left for the summer. She quit working for Mrs. Burke and moved in with her uncle Ed for the summer.
Anne's first job for the summer was housekeeping for a poor white family. Later, the family left unexpectedly and didn't pay her for any of her work that week. A friend of Anne's got her a job at a Café, that Anne received by lying and saying she was over the age of 18 and out of school. However, when her employer discovered these lies, she was fired. Once Anne returned home, she took on many hobbies to distract her from everything.
Once Anne was back home, she began working for Mrs. Burke again, where she grew intimately interested in her son, Wayne. Anne tutored Wayne and his friends for extra cash. One evening, Mrs. Burke accused Junior, Anne's brother, of stealing and shook him down. Anne later quit and began working for Mrs. Hunt, whom she worked for until she moved into her aunt's house in New Orleans for the summer.
Once at her aunts, Anne tried looking for a waitress job for about a month, but as much as she tried, she came up short. Anne reluctantly began working at a chicken factory for about a month. Anne's aunt called the work slave work. Black people protested outside of the factory each day she worked there. Anne later found a job substituting for a dishwasher at a restaurant. She stayed working there and worked herself up to a bus girl, and later became a waitress.
In chapter 16, Toosweet's husband and Anne's stepfather, Raymond began eyeing her. Once Anne recognized this for what it was, she moved in with her father and her stepmother, Emma. While living under her father's roof, one-night Emma's sister, Janie, was fighting with her husband, Wilbert, who was armed with a gun. In the process of protecting Janie, Emma's foot was almost shot clean off. Emma began acting differently once home out of the hospital, due to becoming handicapped. Later in this chapter Anne finally graduated high school and planned to move back to New Orleans and get back her restaurant job.
After her divorce from Austin Straus in 1977, Moody delved into the Civil Rights Movement further. In 1969, Coming of Age in Mississippi received the Brotherhood Award from the National Council of Christians and Jews, and the Best Book of the Year Award from the National Library Association.
In 1972, Moody worked as an artist-in-residence in Berlin. She went on to work at Cornell and in 1975, released a collection of short stories, titled Mr. Death: Four Stories. One of the stories, New Hope for the Seventies, won the silver award from Mademoiselle magazine. Moody declined to make public appearances or grant interviews, with one exception: the above-mentioned interview with Debra Spencer, in 1985. Moody was absent from the spotlight during and after the civil rights movement, partly because she (like many people[who?]) needed time to heal from the physical and psychological wounds received during those efforts. She lived in New York City, worked as a counselor for the New York City Poverty Program, and had been working on a book, The Clay Gully, prior to her death.
- Moody, Anne (1968). Coming of Age in Mississippi. Dial Press. pp. 1–424.
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- "Photo of Woolworth's lunch counter sit-in in Jackson, Mississippi, 28 May 1963, including Anne Moody". The Guardian. March 27, 2015.
- "Anne Moody, Mississippi civil rights activist, dies at 74". NOLA.com. Associated Press. February 7, 2015.
- Spencer, Debra (February 19, 1985). "Transcript (74 pp.) of interview with Anne Moody" (PDF). Department of Archives & History Building. Jackson, Mississippi. p. 51. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 2, 2015. AU 76 OHP 403.
- Langer, Emily (February 20, 2015). "Anne Moody: Civil rights activist who wrote about the hardship and violence she faced growing up in the Jim Crow South (obituary)". The Independent.
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- "Anne Moody". University of Minnesota. Retrieved May 6, 2014.
- Mr. Death: Four Stories. New York: Harper & Row. 1975. ISBN 978-0060243111.
- "Anne Moody: A Biography". mswritersandmusicians.com. Retrieved November 21, 2011.
- Wheeler, Leigh Ann (October 5, 2018). "'Coming of Age in Mississippi' still speaks to nation's racial discord, 50 years later". The Conversation.
- Gwin, Minrose (March 11, 2008). "Mourning Medgar: Justice, Aesthetics, and the Local". Southern Spaces.