By the late 1960s, the civil rights movement had seen enormous successes along with tragic losses. Significant anti-discrimination legislation had been passed, but in the view of many civil rights activists, society had not changed enough. The civil rights movement itself was transforming, turning away from the non-violence of Martin Luther King to a more militant stance epitomized by Malcolm X. into this confusion, in 1968, Moody published her autobiography, Coming of Age in Mississippi. This startling depiction of what it was like to grow up a poor, southern African American captured the attention of Americans around the country from all social classes and all backgrounds. Moody, intimately involved in the civil rights movement in the first half of the 1960s, created an unforgettable image of the inequities and violence that characterized southern society (Rosnow, p. 53.).
Instead of focusing on her years in the civil rights movement, Moody chose to start at the beginning—when she was four years old, the child of poor sharecroppers working for a white farmer. In telling the story of her life, Moody shows why the civil rights movement was such a necessity and the depth of the injustices it had to correct; Moody's autobiography depicts the uphill battle that faced all southern African Americans.
More than thirty years later, Moody's autobiography still retains the power it had for its first readers. Part of the book's long-lasting appeal is its basic humanity. Despite herself, Moody gets drawn into the fight for civil rights, knowing the challenge is incredibly difficult but knowing she has no other path to take.
Themes, Motifs, and Symbols
The Absurdity of Racial Distinctions
While Anne does not question that race and racism are very real facts of life, she does show how absurd and arbitrary racial distinctions are. During Anne's childhood, many whites publicly argued that blacks were genetically inferior to whites. One of the most memorable episodes of Coming of Age is when Anne, as a child, has her white friends undress so she can examine their genitalia for the secret of their better luck in life. Her reasoning is logical: it is not at all evident why they should be better off than blacks, and that is the only part of a white person's body or life she has not seen. The fact that so many blacks have at least some white ancestry serves to highlight how arbitrary a distinction race really is.
The Evil of Disunity Among Blacks in the Face of White Oppression
When blacks refuse to band together to improve their situation, improvement becomes difficult if not impossible. Throughout Coming of Age, Anne is repeatedly frustrated by how willing blacks are to accept injustice. This includes her family, as well as numerous other blacks who work to perpetuate racial inequalities despite being black themselves. Anne is also shocked by the fact that lighter-skinned blacks try to give themselves a social distinction relative to darker-skinned blacks. They all share a common oppression at the hands of ...