Racism in Coming of Age in Mississippi Essay
In her book Coming of Age in Mississippi, Anne Moody writes about her different experiences while growing up in the South as an African-American female during the 1950s and 1960s. Her various stories range from living on a plantation as a child, to working for Caucasian families as a teenager, and to fighting segregation laws publicly as an adult. As Anne grows from a naive child to a progressive adult, she gradually develops into a local leader for African-Americans and an activist in the Civil Rights Movement.
Segregation in America at this time greatly affected the relationships between African-Americans and Caucasians. Most of the opinions and mindsets of the Caucasians who were perpetrating African-Americans resulted from the tradition of their ancestors who also looked down upon the opposite race. Throughout her memoir, Anne Moody narrates the seemingly hopeless battle concerning racial equality by sharing her personal journey to the end of segregation. Racism in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s lived through the concept of Segregation.
Merriam-Webster defines segregation as “the separation or isolation of a race, class, or ethnic group by enforced or voluntary residence in a restricted area. ” Jim Crow Laws implemented public segregation in America, and these laws affected places like schools, restaurants, restrooms, and the workforce. Jim Crow laws were state and local laws that mandated racial segregation in the South, making African-Americans “separate but equal. ” African-Americans were not allowed to attend high school with Caucasians during this time, but Anne tutored a group of white kids, which caused great tension in the community.
She then attended the African-American exclusive Natchez Junior College and played on the basketball team before moving onto Tougaloo College on an academic scholarship. At Tougaloo, Anne encountered her first experience with Caucasian teachers. Segregation continued outside of the school environment when many restaurants in the South refused to serve African-American customers strictly because of their skin color. Anne, along with two others, partook in a Woolworth Sit-In in Jackson, in which she sat at a “white only” lunch counter and proceeded to order.
As a result of these nonviolent protests, restaurants and other public facilities began to change their racial policies as news of other protests spread nationally. African-American people did not hold the same type of jobs as the Caucasian people did. For example, Anne’s parents worked on a plantation and lived in a shack with no plumbing or electricity. Toosweet, Anne’s mother, told her that the plantation’s owner, Mr. Carter, was “sitting up counting the money he made off the Negroes” (Moody 5). As a child, she did not understand why the two races were not considered to be equal.
Anne, like many other African-Americans during segregation, worked many subordinate jobs, such as cleaning the houses of Caucasian families, and also as a strikebreaker in a chicken factory. Segregation affected the lives of African-Americans in a very negative way, while giving numerous benefits to Caucasian people. The relationships between the African-Americans and the Caucasians proved to be very tense and sometimes even violent. Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old African-American from Chicago, was visiting Mississippi and was killed after he was allegedly flirting with a Caucasian woman.
Mrs. Burke, a racist Caucasian woman whose house Anne would clean, said of the murder “A boy from Mississippi would have known better than that. The boy was from Chicago. Negroes up North have no respect for people. They think they can get away with anything” (Moody 132). After Anne had joined the illegal National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and then later the Coalition for the Organization of Racial Equality (CORE), she began to receive both violent and nonviolent threats.
Anne’s family did not support her membership in the NAACP and pled with her to quit the group, especially after being advised by the sheriff. Her membership in CORE, a group focused on registering African-Americans to vote, started to gain the attention of the Ku Klux Klan. Despite these threats, Anne maintained her role as an activist in the Civil Rights Movement. Domestic relationships between African-Americans and Caucasians rarely occurred due to the racist social standards. For example, the law also disallowed marriages to take place between people of separate races.
Segregation did not only exist socially, but also existed economically. Because of the harsh laws that gave African-Americans little chance of having a decent job, their lifestyles were much different than that of Caucasians. Throughout her childhood, Anne moved to several different very small houses that were much like the shacks she lived in on the plantation. Most of the African-American race lived in similar houses and struggled severely financially. Many jobs that Anne had, such as a waitress at an African-American restaurant, were meant to help her mother provide food for the rest of their family.
Caucasians and African-Americans belonged to different social classes, which decided their economic situation. Skin color played a role in how people were treated, even when two people of the same race were involved. African-Americans with lighter-colored skin often looked down upon people of their race who had darker skin. When Toosweet married Raymond, a light skinned African-American, Raymond’s parents and other family members patronized Toosweet and the rest of her family because of how dark their skin was. Since the times of slavery, skin color determined one’s economic and social fate.
Tradition of both African-Americans and Caucasians played a huge role in how racism was carried out during segregation. For hundreds of years, Caucasians in America had the right to own slaves legally. Even after slavery was abolished in 1865, African-Americans still did not have equal rights, and were treated very similarly to how they were treated as slaves. Even during the 1940s and 1950s, plantations were still run with the labor of African-Americans. The southern, Caucasian population continued to be raised to believe that the opposite race was drastically inferior.
This tradition remained substantially unchanged as violence towards African-Americans persisted into the mid-twentieth century. On the other side of the spectrum, African-Americans became used to the cruelty they received from Caucasian people. Many were reluctant to start any type of revolution against the white folk due to the generations of black abuse. Anne grows angry with her fellow African-Americans for succumbing to the violence and brutality, “But I also hated Negroes. I hated them for not standing up and doing something about the murders” (Moody 136).
Anne ends the book with doubt, believing that there may not be much change in America and that the traditions of both races are getting in the way of any positive change. As Anne Moody grows, her views on racism and her activism in the Civil Rights Movement grow proportionally with the progress of the African-American road to equality. As a child, Anne did not understand why she was not considered equal with the white family who owned the plantation that her family worked on. During her teenage years, she finally discovered the disturbing truth concerning the country’s racial inequality.
It was during this time that, in law, segregation had been abolished. Although segregation had been lawfully abolished, the laws of desegregation were not enforced for many years. As Anne worked her way to being a prominent figure in her community, battles against racism were won, such as the Woolworth Sit-ins, Brown v. Board of Education, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Since the laws of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were not enforced for the first few years, it seems fitting that Anne ends her book with doubt that anything positive would come from her racial activism.