The problem of discrimination and biased attitude towards the representatives of particular groups of society has always been an ongoing issue. Even today, despite significant progress in this sphere, some manifestations of this remnant of the past can be observed. The situation was even more complex a half-century ago as millions of people with the black color of skin were discriminated against and suffered from the biased attitude. Being formally free, they were still outcasts who were not able to engage intolerant relations with other representatives of the society1. Moreover, they were provided with different living conditions and had to obey specific rules limiting their lives. The given segregation humiliated their dignity and triggered the growth of dissatisfaction with their position. This atmosphere cultivated the appearance of civil rights activists such as Anne Moody who tried to alter the situation by revealing racial problems in the USA of that period and attracting peoples attention to the problem. Her book Coming of Age in Mississippi sheds light on segregation in Mississippi society and describes how different people lived under these conditions.
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The given book is a credible source of information concerning the manifestations of racism in the USA and the life of black people who had to obey humiliating laws that facilitated segregation at all levels. African-Americans were prohibited to eat in restaurants where white people had their dinners, they were not able to move the same bus, to sit in particular places; their children had to move to special schools and avoid contacts whit other2. These segregational laws incapacitated people of color in America and resulted in the stratification of the society. Racism was an integral part of U.S. society and impacted the lives of all its citizens regardless of their age3. For this reason, social activists were not able to remain silent. Trying to alter the situation, they attracted the public attention to issues crucial for their lives by revealing conditions in which they had to survive.
Segregation and Society
Anne Moodys autobiography Coming of Age in Mississippi is a unique book that also pursued the aim of demonstrating how difficult the existence of black people was because of segregation and its pernicious impact on all spheres of human activity. The book encompasses several stages in the life of this social rights activist and helps a reader to understand a problem better. During her childhood, studying at school, college, and work, Moody had been experiencing multiple cases of racism and discrimination. It meant that segregation permeated all spheres of Mississippi society and corrupted the functioning of such important social institutions like schools, colleges, relations between employees and employers, and hospitals (450). People working there adhered to the unspoken rules that limited the life and work of African-Americans and introduced a specific code of behavior for them. Because of the deeply permeated specialists, people even could not think about other behavioral patterns and reconsideration their approaches to others.
One of the brightest examples that impacted Annes life and preconditioned her desire to struggle for equality and tolerance is the murder of a fourteen-year boy Emmet Till. He was killed because of whistling at a white woman (161). The given event perfectly demonstrates the situation in the area and the inferior position of black people who were deprived of any rights and considered worse than the whites. The boy became a victim of barbarian laws peculiar to the America of the 1950s. Being deeply shocked by this very event, Anne wanted to understand the reasons for this cruel incident. However, she was told that the boy was killed by “the Evil spirit” (162). Years after, Anne understood that the given spirit was white supremacy that interfered with all spheres of the society and preconditioned how people of different cultures and ethnicities interacted with each other.
In the book, Anne states that this incident, along with many other cases of this sort, showed that white people would try to protect the given way of life as it was associated with their superior position and provided them with numerous benefits that could be acquired due to the exploitation of black people (172). The given desire resulted in resistance towards any changes and attempts to reconsider the existing position and obtain justice. At the same time, white peoples more powerful position provided them with the opportunity to suppress any desire to struggle for civil rights directly. For instance, Moodys relatives were afraid of speaking about the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and recommend her never to mention it near white people or somewhere else (178). It becomes evident that being dissatisfied with their position, African-Americans were still not able to demonstrate their feelings because of the administrative pressure and their helplessness and vulnerability.
The book also provides other cases of segregation in different spheres of U.S. society. Trying to earn money Moody worked for white people; however, they did not pay her (296). She lost another job because of the discriminative practices and betrayal (298). In such a way, the girl started to understand the complexity and vulnerability of the position of people of color in the USA. In her own words, at that period of time, she felt hatred for all white people who were unfair towards African-Americans and promoted the existing mode of life (225). However, this feeling gradually transformed into a more conscious choice to struggle against injustice and segregation. To a greater degree, it was preconditioned by Mrs. Rice, who was among few not afraid to speak about these issues and resist oppression. Mrs. Rice impacted the formation of Moodys mentality by explaining the role NAACP plays in the lives of black people, the current state of race relations in rural Mississippi, and central drivers that shaped peoples mentalities and intercourse (169). Her formation as a civil rights activist has started from this very point.
Civil Rights Activist
Very soon Anne realized the degree to which racism is interconnected with U.S. society. The fourth section of the book describes Moodys participation in a sit-in at Woolworths lunch counter (357). She and other civil rights workers entered the establishment and continued to sit there despite the fact that they were denied service. Later, a crowd of students who recognized Moodys protest abused, beaten, and dragged her by hair toward the door (358). The given accident was noticed by the police; however, they did nothing to stop it, white officers were just watching the scene (359). This accident revealed the local authorities support of segregation and ensured Moody that the U.S. society suffered from “an incurable disease” (363) with the primary symptoms such as segregation and supremacy of white people in all spheres of activity.
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At the same time, the given non-violent strategy promoted by other outstanding civil rights activists remained the only legal and possible way to resist oppression and attain the improvement of the black peoples position. Working for CORE, Moody perfectly understood that the situation remained far from the desired one and only a few changes were observed (439). To a greater degree, it was preconditioned by the lack of activity among other African-Americans who were not ready to forget their fears and stereotypes related to the distribution of power in the society and their rights. For this reason, work with this group of the population became another important part of her struggle for the improvement of black peoples position and the achievement of a tolerant attitude.
Altogether, the book provides a comprehensive overview of the USA in its 1950s. Using the community of Mississippi as the background, the author describes the deep penetration of racial stereotypes and biased thinking into the life of all members of the society. Years of segregation resulted in the creation of a specific environment characterized by white supremacy and their unwillingness to alter the situation to provide equal rights to people of color. Having matured in the atmosphere of hatred and discrimination, Moody understood the complexity of relations and the need for change. Being not able to accept the rightless and vulnerable position, she became a civil rights activist who tried to alter society by revealing its problems and attracting peoples attention to them. It became her greatest challenge and the most difficult task; however, her activity preconditioned numerous positive alterations in the given sphere.
Moody, Anne. Coming of Age in Mississippi. Bantam Dell, 1968.
Rothstein, Richard. The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. Liveright, 2017.
- Richard Rothstein. The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. Liveright, 2017, 28.
- Ibid., 56.
- Ibid., 79.