I was taking a break from posting, but not history, I realized, as I read a book my son gave me called Coming of Age in Mississippi. It is assigned reading for him as a Junior at Arcata High, and he thought I might find it interesting. It is. Appalling, actually. I literally had to stop reading the other night, as I was in a public place and crying…
Anne Moody wrote this autobiography about growing up in the 40s and 50s in rural Mississippi, and coming of age during the birth of the civil rights movement. The incident that brought me to tears was her experience at a lunch counter in Woolworth’s. I remember the Woolworth’s in Eureka, and the lunch counter, though I don’t know that I ever ate there. By the seventies there wouldn’t have been a “white” section, but I wonder, was there ?
Anne participated in a “sit-in” at the Woolworth’s in Mississippi about fifty years ago, sitting in the white section instead of in the back with the other “negroes” as she called them. She sat there all day, waiting for service that never came. She sat there as fellow students and other sympathizers came and went. As she and her peers were mocked, and threatened, and one was thrown to the floor and repeatedly kicked in the head. Through it all, her and her friends persisted, simply waiting to be recognized.
Later, local, white, high school students entered the store… and
“Some old man in the crowd ordered the students to take us off the stools. “Which one should I get first?” a big husky boy said.
“That white nigger,” the old man replied.
The boy lifted Joan from the counter by her waist and carried her out of the store. Simultaneously, I was snatched from my stool by two high school students. I was dragged about thirty feet toward the door by my hair when someone made them turn me loose. As I was getting up off the floor, I saw Joan coming back inside. We started back to the counter… There were now four of us, two whites and two negroes, all women. The mob stated smearing us with ketchup, mustard, sugar, pies and everything on the counter…
The mob took spray paint.. and sprayed it… The high school student had on a white shirt; the word “nigger” was written on his back with red spray paint.
We sat there three hours taking a beating when the manager decided to close the store…”
Anne was about twenty when this happened, a college student with a social conscience and desire for equality. My own daughter is a twenty-one year old college student today…
Up until I read this book, I was frustrated with the big deal folks were making out of Obama’s election. He’s black, but so what, I kept thinking. The color of his skin shouldn’t matter. But the color of our President’s skin does matter. Less than fifty years ago African Americans couldn’t have sat with whites in a restaurant. Many, especially in the south, were too intimidated to even VOTE, let alone imagine a black president. And now we have Obama.
Progress can be made, never doubt it.