During my senior year at Tougaloo, my family hadn’t sent me one penny. I had only the small amount of money I had earned at Maple Hill [restaurant in New Orleans]. I couldn’t afford to eat at school or live in the dorms, so I had gotten permission to move off campus. I had to prove that I could finish school, even if I had to go hungry every day. I knew Raymond [her stepfather] and Miss Pearl [his mother] were just waiting to see me drop out. But something happened to me as I got more and more involved in the Movement. It no longer seemed important to prove anything. I had found something outside myself that gave meaning to my life.
- Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi
If you have read Kathryn Stockett's The Help (which I blogged about here and here) and wondered how the story would go if a black woman had written it, try Coming of Age in Mississippi. Anne Moody’s first paying job came when she was only nine years old. She was paid seventy-five cents a week and two gallons of milk to dust and sweep an old lady’s house. After seeing that the old lady let cats drink out of the milk cans, she didn’t want to drink the milk any more and told her mother why, but her mother wouldn’t believe her, and so the girl continued carrying milk home to her family. She planted and chopped cotton for a while and continued to do housework for white people all the way through high school, but she kept her distance from boys, determined not to be trapped in a life like her mother’s, dependent on a man and having one baby after another. She went to college on scholarship, paying her living expenses by working summers in a restaurant (moving up gradually from dishwasher to waitress) and in a chicken slaughterhouse as a strikebreaker.
It was in college that Moody joined the NAACP, an organization so hated and feared by whites in her home of Wilkinson County that black people didn’t dare to say its name out loud, let alone join, lest they wind up murdered like Emmett Till. Soon afterward she became involved with SNCC, CORE, voter registration drives and civil rights sit-ins. Her life was threatened. Medgar Evers was killed on her 23rd birthday.
The end of the book, like much of the story, may not be what you expect, but it is one black woman’s firsthand experience of growing up poor in rural Mississippi and trying to make life better for her people.