Anne Moody, whose searing memoir, “Coming of Age in Mississippi,” told what it was like to grow up black in the era of Jim Crow, died on Feb. 5 at her home in Gloster, Miss. She was 74.
Her death was announced on the website of Representative Bennie G. Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi. Ms. Moody had had dementia in recent years.
Published in 1968, “Coming of Age in Mississippi” was Ms. Moody’s only work of nonfiction, and one of just two books she published during her lifetime. In unadorned, unflinching prose, it narrated her life from her early childhood through her involvement in the civil rights movement as a young woman.
Reviewing the memoir in The New York Times Book Review, Senator Edward M. Kennedy wrote that it “brings to life the sights and smells and suffering of rural poverty in a way seldom available to those who live far away.” He added: “Anne Moody’s powerful and moving book is a timely reminder that we cannot now relax in the struggle for sound justice in America or in any part of America. We would do so at our peril.”
A daughter of sharecroppers, Essie Mae Moody was born on Sept. 15, 1940, in Centreville, Miss.; she began calling herself Anne in her teens. As a girl, she cleaned white neighbors’ houses to help support her family.
After attending Natchez Junior College on a basketball scholarship, the young Ms. Moody enrolled in Tougaloo College, a historically black institution near Jackson, Miss., from which she received a bachelor’s degree in 1964. During these years she was active in civil rights efforts in Mississippi, working with the Congress of Racial Equality, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
In 1963, Ms. Moody and another activist, Joan Trumpauer, were part of a racially mixed group in a sit-in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Jackson. As a widely reproduced news photograph shows, a white mob poured condiments the protesters as they sat praying at the counter.
“I was snatched from my stool by two high school students,” Ms. Moody recounted in her memoir. “I was dragged about 30 feet toward the door by my hair when someone made them turn me loose.” She continued:
“The mob started smearing us with ketchup, mustard, sugar, pies and everything on the counter. Soon Joan and I were joined by John Salter, but the moment he sat down he was hit on the jaw with what appeared to be brass knuckles. Blood gushed from his face and someone threw salt into the open wound.”
In the 1960s Ms. Moody moved to New York, where she wrote “Coming of Age in Mississippi.” She lived quietly for decades, granting no interviews and holding a series of non-writing jobs, including as a counselor in a New York City antipoverty program, before returning to Mississippi.
Ms. Moody’s marriage to Austin Straus ended in divorce. Her survivors, according to Mr. Thompson’s office, include her son, Sascha Straus; four sisters, Adline Moody, Virginia Gibson, Frances Jefferson and Vallery Jefferson; and three brothers, Ralph Jefferson, James Jefferson and Kenneth Jefferson.
Her other book, “Mr. Death,” published in 1975, is a slender collection of short stories for young people on the theme of mortality.
In the 2014 edition of the reference work Contemporary Authors Online, an autobiographical statement from Ms. Moody illuminates both her departure from the civil rights movement and her comparative silence as a writer:
“In the beginning I never really saw myself as a writer,” she said. “I was first and foremost an activist in the civil rights movement in Mississippi.”
However, Ms. Moody continued, “I came to see through my writing that no matter how hard we in the movement worked, nothing seemed to change.” She added: “We were like an angry dog on a leash that had turned on its master. It could bark and howl and snap, and sometimes even bite, but the master was always in control.”
Anne Moody (September 15, 1940 – February 5, 2015) was an African-American author who wrote about her experiences growing up poor and black in rural Mississippi, joining the Civil Rights Movement, and fighting racism against blacks in the United States beginning in the 1960s.
Born Essie Mae Moody on September 15, she was the oldest of ten children. After her parents split up, she grew up with her mother, Elmira aka Toosweet, in Centreville, Mississippi, while her father lived in nearbyWoodville. At a young age she began working for white families in the area, cleaning their houses and helping their children with homework for only a few dollars a week, while earning perfect grades in school and helping at church. After graduating with honors from a segregated, all-black high school, she attended Natchez Junior College (also all black) in 1961 under a basketball scholarship.
Then she moved on to Tougaloo College on an academic scholarship to earn a bachelor's degree. She became involved with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. After graduation, Moody became a full-time worker in the Civil Rights Movement, participating in a Woolworth's lunchcounter sit-in and protests inJackson. During Freedom Summer, she worked for CORE in the town of Canton. In 1967 she married a white man who was an NYU graduate student. In 1971 she gave birth to a boy. In 1972 her family moved to Berlin after she received a full-time scholarship and they remained there until 1974 when they returned to America. Upon her return, she wrote a sequel to her autobiography entitled Farewell to Too Sweet, which covered her life from 1974 to 1984. She was also involved in the anti-nuclear movement. She resettled in Mississippi in the early 1990s.
She died at her home in Gloster, Mississippi, at the age of 74 in 2015, having suffered from dementia in recent years.
Her autobiography Coming of Age in Mississippi is acclaimed for its realistic portrayal of life for a young African American before and during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. It has been published in seven languages and sold around the world.
After her divorce from Austin Straus in 1967, she delved into the civil rights movement further. In 1969, Coming of Age in Mississippi, received the Brotherhood Award from the National Council of Christians and Jews and the Best Book of the Year Award from the National Library Association. In 1972 she worked as an artist-in-residence in Berlin. She went on to work at Cornell University and sold a collection of short stories in 1975. One of the short stories, "New Hope for the Seventies" won the silver award from Mademoiselle Magazine. She did not grant interviews or do public appearances. She worked as a Counselor for the New York City Poverty Program and lived in the city, and was working on a book entitled The Clay Guilly prior to her death.
Anne Moody (aka Essie Mae Moody) (b. September 15, 1940, near Centerville, Mississippi - d. February 5, 2015, Gloster, Mississippi), was an American civil rights activist and writer whose autobiographical account of her personal and political struggles against racism in the South became a classic.
Moody, the daughter of poor African American sharecroppers, received her early education in the segregated school system of the South. In 1959, she was awarded a basketball scholarship and attended Natchez Junior College, later transferring to Tougaloo (Mississippi) College. While a student at Tougaloo, Moody became active in the Civil Rights Movement. She helped organize the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and in 1963 participated in a widely publicized sit-in demonstration at a segregated Woolworth's lunch counter.
After graduating from Tougaloo in 1964, Moody worked as the civil rights project coordinator for Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, until 1965. Eventually, she became disenchanted with certain aspects of the Civil Rights Movement and moved to New York City, where she began to write her autobiography, Coming of Age in Mississippi. Published in 1968, the book provides an eloquent and poignant account of Moody's impoverished childhood, her struggle against the pervasive racism of the Deep South, and her work as a civil rights activist. It received high praise as both a historical and a personal document and is considered of major importance in the study of the Civil Rights Movement. Her only other published work is Mr. Death: Four Stories (1975).