Anne Moody, whose memoir “Coming of Age in Mississippi” gave a wrenching account of growing up poor in the segregated South and facing violence as a civil rights activist, has died. She was 74.
Moody died Thursday at her home in the small town Gloster, Miss. She had dementia the last several years and stopped eating two days before she died in her sleep, according to her sister, Adline Moody.
On May 28, 1963, Anne Moody was among the students from historically black Tougaloo College who staged a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in downtown Jackson, Miss. A white mob attacked the integrated group of peaceful students, dousing them with ketchup, mustard and sugar and beating one of the men.
A photograph from the sit-in shows Moody sitting stoically at the five-and-dime counter with food on her head. Moody’s eyes are downcast as a man pours more food on one of her fellow students, Joan Trumpauer.
Moody wrote in her 1968 memoir that “all hell broke loose” after she and two other black students, Memphis Norman and Pearlena Lewis, prayed at the lunch counter.
“A man rushed forward, threw Memphis from his seat, and slapped my face,” Moody wrote. “Then another man who worked in the store threw me against an adjoining counter.”
The Jackson sit-in occurred more than three years after a more famous one in Greensboro, N.C. The one in Jackson happened just after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision that legalized sit-ins. But, Jackson police provided little protection to the protesters as about 300 whites screamed at and jostled them.
The Rev. Ed King, a white Methodist minister who was the Tougaloo chaplain in 1963, went to Woolworth’s as an observer. During a 2009 AP interview, King recalled he reported to Medgar Evers, the Mississippi NAACP leader, what was happening.
“I had to call him and tell him that of the first sit-inners, a mob has formed, Memphis Norman was unconscious on the floor, he had been kicked … had blood in his nose, I think even ears. And he did have a concussion from it,” King said. “And the first two women had been dragged by the hair.”
The sit-in lasted several hours before the store closed. The mob was dispersed and the Tougaloo contingent returned to campus in north Jackson. The protest was part of a months-long boycott that the NAACP led against white-owned businesses in downtown Jackson, seeking the hiring of black police officers and bank clerks, the elimination of segregated water fountains and lunch counters; the use of courtesy titles for black adults, who routinely were called by their first names rather than “Mr.” or “Mrs.”; the hiring of black clerks at Capitol Street stores; and the change to a first-come, first-served approach for waiting on customers at downtown stores rather than making black customers wait until whites had been helped.
Two weeks after the sit-in, Evers was assassinated outside his family’s Jackson home.
Anne Moody was born Sept. 15, 1940, near Centreville, Miss. After graduating from college in 1964 she left Mississippi and for a time lived in New York, where she wrote her memoir.
Even after Anne Moody returned to Mississippi in the mid-1990s, she never felt at ease in her home state, her sister said.
Adline Moody said that she admired the courage of her sister, who was two years her senior.
“We came from a very poor family, and when she joined the movement, she did it because it was something that needed to be done. She wasn’t out there just to be there,” Adline Moody said. “I’m very proud of her for what she did. She made it better for me.”
According to the Associated Press, Anne Moody is survived by her son, Sascha Straus, from her marriage to Austin Straus, which ended in divorce; sisters Adline Moody, Virginia Gibson, Frances Jefferson and Vallery Jefferson; and brothers Ralph Jefferson, James Jefferson and Kenneth Jefferson.
Wagster Pettus writes for the Associated Press.