In Memory of Anne Moody

African American writer and activist Anne Moody passed away at the age of 74 in her home in Gloster, Mississippi on February 5th, 2015. Anne Moody wrote the powerful memoir Coming of Age in Mississippi[1] documenting her years growing up in the Jim Crow South and her work as a Civil Right’s activist. The honesty and bravery with which Anne Moody wrote about her personal life and the violences of white supremacy will make her a voice for a better South for many decades to come. Anne Moody’s memories of food in Coming of Age in Mississippi are not a simple picture of idyllic plenty but a narrative where food separates and divides human beings and the threat of hunger is just one of many dangers.

Jackson Sit In
Photo by Fred Blackwell

One of Moody’s earlier memories reflects on the differences between what her mother could afford to feed them at home and what she cooked for the white family she worked for:

“Sometimes Mama would bring us the white family’s leftovers. It was the best food I had ever eaten. That what when I discovered that white folks ate different from us. They had all kinds of different food with meat and all. We always just had beans and bread. One Saturday the white lady let Mama bring us to her house… The kitchen was pretty, all white and shiny… ‘If Mama only had a kitchen like this of her own,’ I thought, ‘she would cook better food for us.”[2]

Moody was hardly alone in being a child of a mother who worked hard cooking in other people’s houses but was constantly fighting off the threat of hunger at home. Anne Moody’s Coming of Age in Mississippi writes openly about this struggle with hunger but also about the hunger for respect and the willingness to go without instead of compromising her pride. In another childhood memory she is sent by her mother to an older white woman’s home to pick up some clabber milk, while she is there she watches the woman let her cats help themselves to the same milk that was sold to her family. “I stood there looking at all of this I thought of how many times I had drunk that milk. ‘I’ll starve before I eat any more of it,’ I thought.”[3]

Anne Moody’s memoir also gives us an account of a frequently neglected aspect of the Civil Right’s Movement, the day to day efforts of many individuals, especially women, to secure basic necessities like food for activists like Anne Moody and other members of organizations such as the SNCC, CORE and the NAACP. Moody writes about close conversations, solidarity between activists, and moments where food truly touched her. In one instance, Moody returns to Canton, Mississippi to find a “tub of food had been brought in from Jackson,”[4] from Mrs. Jackson, who knew Anne Moody through her sons with whom Moody had been arrested.

In Coming of Age in Mississippi, we can see where food interconnected with the passion and dedication of the rest of Anne Moody’s life, at one of her moments of consciousness about race, the murder of the young Emmett Till, Moody compares two fears: “Before Emmett Till’s murder, I had known the fear of hunger, hell and the Devil. But now there was a new fear known to me—the fear of being killed just because I was black. That was the worst of my fears.” Anne Moody lived through the violent events that took the lives of many of her coworkers and her testimony lives on, reminding us of how far we have come and where we are trying to go.

For a deeper look at the role of Anne Moody and other activists in the struggle for Civil Rights, watch Counter Histories, a special project commissioned by the Southern Foodways Alliance to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
[1] Moody, Anne. Coming of Age in Mississippi. New York: Dial, 1968. Print.

[2] pg. 29

[3] pg. 40

[4] pg. 326