Anne Moody, in her autobiography Coming of Age in Mississippi, argues that, despite the overwhelming bigotry of the South, the individual black American can find strength and courage within herself and with others to fight against and overcome that bigotry. Southern bigotry is described in the book in many ways, but Essie May is able to resist the despair and resignation which could have easily been her lot, and to rise above her situation to become a proud and hopeful member of the civil rights movement. The message is clearly that if oppressed people can organize and plan such resistance to bigotry, then that bigotry can indeed be overcome.
What gives this theme its unique power is the attitude of Moody to her life and the material in her book. In the first place, she never feels sorry for herself or tries to persuade the reader to feel sorry for her. What this does is give credence to her courageous involvement in the civil rights movement. From the beginning we see that courage, even when she is a little girl and is left alone with a few beans to care for herself and her sister. We are shown that early on she possessed the courage which would find full expression later in her life.
In the second place, Moody refuses to idealize the struggle for civil rights and individual dignity in the face of bigotry and oppression. In the concluding pages, we see her as a down-to-earth woman who has no false expectations about any perfect society which might arise out of the movement. This realistic attitude lets the reader know that Moody does not want to portray herself as a victim transformed magically into a dreamer.
The bigotry in the book is so pervasive that it infects almost every corner of the lives of Essie Mae and the other blacks in her book. The opening pages painfully demonstrate to the reader that bigotry is not merely the direct mistreatment of blacks by whites. Eight-year-old black George Lee, for example, takes his...