To the Home Page of the National Humanities Center Web Site National Humanities Center Toolbox Library: Primary Resources in U.S. History and Literature
contact us | site guide | search
Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachers
The Making of African American Identity: Volume III, 1917-1968
Theme: SegregationTheme: MigrationsTheme: ProtestTheme: CommunityTheme: Overcome?
Theme: Protest

Mississippi Freedom Ballot, flier distributed to publicize the upcoming Freedom Vote, November 2-4, 1963
- Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi, memoir, 1968, excerpts on the Mississippi Freedom Project, 1963 (PDF)

In 1968, to considerable critical acclaim, Anne Moody published Coming of Age in Mississippi, a four-part memoir recounting her childhood and young adulthood in racist rural Mississippi. Although only the final portion treats her role in the civil rights movement, it is the most memorable section. In this excerpt she describes a "freedom vote," a mock election in the fall of 1963 designed to "prove to the nation that Negroes who wanted to vote would vote if they were not afraid to do so." The passage illustrates, among other things, some of the tactics of the civil rights movement, the constant fear civil rights workers endured, and the physical and psychological toll it took on them.

Moody (1940-) was born in rural Wilkinson County, Mississippi, the eldest of nine children. When her parents split, she, her siblings, and their mother moved to the small town of Centerville, where she attended segregated schools and cleaned the homes of white residents. A basketball scholarship enabled her to attend Natchez Junior College, which she left to take advantage of an academic scholarship at Tougaloo College. There she became involved in civil rights work with the Congress of Racial Equality, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the NAACP. After graduation, she became an organizer in her home state, participating in store boycotts and lunch counter sit-ins, speaking at local churches, leading self-protection workshops, and registering black voters. (9 pages.)

Discussion questions
  1. How did its rural setting shape the goals, tactics, and conduct of the 1963 freedom vote?
  2. Why did the activists establish a "freedom house"?
  3. To what extent is Moody an outsider in Canton? How does she relate to the community's black residents?
  4. What tensions within the black community of Canton does this excerpt reveal?
  5. What tensions within Moody herself does it reveal?
  6. Judging from this excerpt, what roles did women play in the movement in Mississippi?
  7. In what ways did members of both black and white communities resist change?
  8. What drives Moody to consider leaving the movement? What convinces her to stay?
  9. How does Moody present herself in this excerpt?
  10. Compare Moody's attitude toward guns with that of Robert Williams (see #6: Arming).
  11. Compare and contrast the roles ministers played in Montgomery, Monroe, and Mississippi (see #'s 5-7).
  12. How did organizational strategies differ in Montgomery, Monroe, and Mississippi? What accounts for those differences?
  13. Compare and contrast the portrayals of the white communities in Montgomery, Monroe, and Mississippi.
  14. How do the Montgomery, Monroe, and Mississippi stories illustrate differences in gender perspectives?

Framing Questions
  •  What forms did African American protest take?
  •  How did protest strategies and goals evolve over time?
  •  In what ways was African American identity shaped in opposition to the larger American society?

Moody: 9 pages
Supplemental Sites
Anne Moody, overview from the University of Mississippi

Anne Moody, in Voices from the Gaps: Women Artists and Writers of Color, from the University of Minnesota

Mississippi Freedom Summer Project, overview, from the SNCC Project Group, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Mississippi Summer Freedom Project, volunteers' letters, from Malaspina University-College, Canada

Mississippi Summer Freedom Project, documents (scroll down to Freedom Movement Organizing Materials), from the Civil Rights Movement Veterans website

Freedom Now! The Mississippi Freedom Movement, online exhibition from Tougaloo College and Brown University

Alabama voter registration form, ca. 1964-1965, in Eyes on the Prize (PBS)

*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.

Image: "Mississippi Freedom Ballot," flier distributed by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to publicize the upcoming Freedom Vote, November 2-4, 1963. University of Southern Mississippi Library (Will D. Campbell Papers), Civil Rights in Mississippi Digital Archive #wdc065. Reproduced by permission.

1. Asking   2. Reasoning   3. Singing   4. Marching
  5. Boycotting   6. Arming   7. Voting   8. Separating
  9. Connecting   10. Writing   11. Poetry   12. Theater   13. Images

TOOLBOX: The Making of African American Identity: Volume III, 1917-1968
Segregation | Migrations | Protest | Community | Overcome?

Contact Us | Site Guide | Search

Toolbox Library: Primary Resources in U.S. History and Literature
National Humanities Center
Web site comments and questions, contact:
Copyright © National Humanities Center. All rights reserved.
Revised: August 2007