Moody, others made the world better

Published 11:36 pm Saturday, September 9, 2017

More than 50 years after she was mocked and demoralized for having the audacity to question a fundamentally wrong status quo, civil rights activist and author Anne Moody will be honored Friday in her hometown of Centreville.

The town plans to name a street after Moody and hold a ceremony to commemorate the event on Moody’s birthday. She died in 2015 at age 74.

While Moody is certainly worthy of honor, somehow it seems she deserves more than just a road sign.

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For many Americans, her name may be unfamiliar, but for Mississippians her name should be familiar, but sadly it’s not as well known as it should be.

Her 1968 book, “Coming of Age in Mississippi,” was a raw look at her life as a black person living in the Jim Crow era of Mississippi.

Aside from her landmark book, Moody may be most well known for something that today seems unbelievably common — she sat at a lunch counter at Woolworth’s store in Jackson during a May 28, 1963, sit-in protest.

Moody was one of three black students from Tougaloo College participating in the sit-in. The others were Memphis Norman and Pearlena Lewis.

The three prayed at the counter. Their action was part of a wider move to protest mistreatment of black people in Jackson — and the greater South as well.

Because the students were black and the lunch counter was segregated, a mob of white teenagers and young men began harassing them.

The trio was joined at some point by freedom rider Joan Trumpauer.

The participants were simply sitting quietly, trying to protest the racial segregation without violence, when the mob took matters into their own hands.

A newspaper photographer, Fred Blackwell, captured what became an iconic image showing the utter depravity of Mississippi’s racial problems.

Mob members look on smugly, some smiling, while others poured items on the trio of protestors trying to degrade them enough to make them leave.

“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.”

The three sat still, trying to avoid further conflict.

When the mob realized their humiliation effort had not worked they resorted to more violence.

“I was snatched from my stool by two high school students,” she wrote, recounting the experience. “I was dragged about 30 feet toward the door by my hair when someone made them turn me loose.”

The visuals — both the famous photo of the abuse at the sit-in and the word pictures Moody’s descriptions provide — are difficult to comprehend.

The South operated under a system of institutional bullying.

Sadly, Moody was one of literally thousands of Americans who were abused by the morally warped system of segregation.

Fortunately for our country, Moody and others had the courage to stand up against the wrongs of society. Their efforts ultimately led to a nation of improved equality.

America certainly is not perfect, but through the efforts of heroes such as Anne Moody, Memphis Norman, Pearlena Lewis, Joan Trumpauer and John Salter our world is better than it was for past generations.

For that we should all be grateful.
Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or