Coming of Age in Mississippi (1968)
by Anne Moody
had become very friendly with my social science professor, John
Salter, who was in charge of NAACP activities on campus. All during
the year, while the NAACP conducted a boycott of the downtown stores
in Jackson, I had been one of Salter's most faithful canvassers and
church speakers. During the last week of school, he told me that
sit-in demonstrations were about to start in Jackson and that he
wanted me to be the spokesman for a team that would sit-in at
Woolworth's lunch counter. The two other demonstrators would be
classmates of mine, Memphis [Norman] and Pearlena [Lewis]. Pearlena
was a dedicated NAACP worker, but Memphis had not been very involved
in the Movement on campus. It seemed that the organization had had a
rough time finding students who were in a position to go to jail. I
had nothing to lose one way or the other. Around ten o'clock the
morning of the demonstrations, NAACP headquarters alerted the news
services. As a result, the police department was also informed, but
neither the policemen nor the newsmen knew exactly where or when the
demonstrations would start. They stationed themselves along Capitol
Street and waited.
divert attention from the sit-in at Woolworth's, the picketing
started at J. C. Penney s a good fifteen minutes before. The pickets
were allowed to walk up and down in front of the store three or four
times before they were arrested. At exactly 11 a.m., Pearlena,
Memphis, and I entered Woolworth's from the rear entrance. We
separated as soon as we stepped into the store, and made small
purchases from various counters. Pearlena had given Memphis her
watch. He was to let us know when it was 11:14. At 11:14 we were to
join him near the lunch counter and at exactly 11:15 we were to take
seats at it.
before 11:15 we were occupying three seats at the previously
segregated Woolworth's lunch counter. In the beginning the waitresses
seemed to ignore us, as if they really didn't know what was going on.
Our waitress walked past us a couple of times before she noticed we
had started to write our own orders down and realized we wanted
service. She asked us what we wanted. We began to read to her from
our order slips. She told us that we would be served at the back
counter, which was for Negroes.
would like to be served here," I said.
waitress started to repeat what she had said, then stopped in the
middle of the sentence. She turned the lights out behind the counter,
and she and the other waitresses almost ran to the back of the store,
deserting all their white customers. I guess they thought that
violence would start immediately after the whites at the counter
realized what was going on. There were five or six other people at
the counter. A couple of them just got up and walked away. A girl
sitting next to me finished her banana split before leaving. A
middle-aged white woman who had not yet been served rose from her
seat and came over to us. "I'd like to stay here with you,"
she said, "but my husband is waiting.''
newsmen came in just as she was leaving. They must have discovered
what was going on shortly after some of the people began to leave the
store. One of the newsmen ran behind the woman who spoke to us and
asked her to identify herself. She refused to give her name, but said
she was a native of Vicksburg and a former resident of California.
When asked why she had said what she had said to us, she replied, "I
am in sympathy with the Negro movement." By this time a crowd of
cameramen and reporters had gathered around us taking pictures and
asking questions, such as Where were we from? Why did we sit-in? What
organization sponsored it? Were we students? From what school? How
were we classified?
told them that we were all students at Tougaloo College, that we were
represented by no particular organization, and that we planned to
stay there even after the store closed. "All we want is
service," was my reply to one of them. After they had finished
probing for about twenty minutes, they were almost ready to leave.
noon, students from a nearby white high school started pouring in to
Woolworth's. When they first saw us they were sort of surprised. They
didn't know how to react. A few started to heckle and the newsmen
became interested again. Then the white students started chanting all
kinds of anti-Negro slogans. We were called a little bit of
everything. The rest of the seats except the three we were occupying
had been roped off to prevent others from sitting down. A couple of
the boys took one end of the rope and made it into a hangman's noose.
Several attempts were made to put it around our necks. The crowds
grew as more students and adults came in for lunch.
kept our eyes straight forward and did not look at the crowd except
for occasional glances to see what was going on. All of a sudden I
saw a face I remembered—the drunkard from the bus station
sit-in. My eyes lingered on him just long enough for us to recognize
each other. Today he was drunk too, so I don't think he remembered
where he had seen me before. He took out a knife, opened it, put it
in his pocket, and then began to pace the floor. At this point, I
told Memphis and Pearlena what was going on. Memphis suggested that
we pray. We bowed our heads, and all hell broke loose. A man rushed
forward, threw Memphis from his seat, and slapped my face. Then
another man who worked in the store threw me against an adjoining
on my knees on the floor, I saw Memphis lying near the lunch counter
with blood running out of the corners of his mouth. As he tried to
protect his face, the man who'd thrown him down kept kicking him
against the head. If he had worn hard-soled shoes instead of
sneakers, the first kick probably would have killed Memphis. Finally
a man dressed in plain clothes identified himself as a police officer
and arrested Memphis and his attacker.
had been thrown to the floor. She and I got back on our stools after
Memphis was arrested. There were some white Tougaloo teachers in the
crowd. They asked Pearlena and me if we wanted to leave. They said
that things were getting coo rough. We didn't know what to do. While
we were trying to make up our minds, we were joined by Joan
Trumpauer. Now there were three of us and we were integrated. The
crowd began to chant, "Communists, Communists, Communists."
Some old man in the crowd ordered the students to take us off the
one should I get first?" a big husky boy said.
white nigger," the old man said.
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 rum me loose. As I was getting up off
the floor, I saw Joan corning back inside. We started back to the
center of the counter to join Pearlena. Lois Chaffee, a white
Tougaloo faculty member, was now sitting next to her. So Joan and I
just climbed across the rope at the front end of the counter and sat
down. There were now four of us, two whites and two Negroes, all
women. 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. Ed King, Tougaloo's chaplain,
rushed to him.
the other end of the counter, Lois and Pearlena were joined by George
Raymond, a CORE [Congress of Racial Equality] field worker and a
student from Jackson State College. Then a Negro high school boy sat
down next to me. The mob took spray paint from the counter and
sprayed it on the new demonstrators. The high school student had on a
white shirt; the word "nigger" was written on his back with
red spray paint.
sat there for three hours taking a beating when the manager decided
to close the store because the mob had begun to go wild with stuff
from other counters. He begged and begged everyone to leave. But even
after fifteen minutes of begging, no one budged. They would not leave
until we did. Then Dr. [A. Daniel] Beittel, the president of Tougaloo
College, came running in. He said he had just heard what was
ninety policemen were standing outside the score; they had been
watch-ing the whole thing through the windows, but had not come in to
stop the mob or do anything. President Beittel went outside and asked
Capcain Ray to come and escort us out. The captain refused, stating
the manager had to invite him in before he could enter the premises,
so Dr. Beittel himself brought us out. He had told the police that
they had better protect us after we were outside the store. When we
got outside, the policemen formed a single line that blocked the mob
from us. However, they were allowed to throw at us everything they
had collected. Within ten minutes, we were picked up by Reverend
[Edwin] King in his station wagon and taken to the NAACP headquarters
on Lynch Street.
the sit-in, all I could think of was how sick Mississippi whites
were. They believed so much in the segregated Southern way of life,
they would kill to preserve it. I sat there in the NAACP office and
thought of how many times they had killed when this way of life was
threatened. I knew that the killing had just begun. "Many more
will die before it is over with," I thought. Before the sit-in,
I had always hated the whites in Mississippi. Now I knew it was
impossible for me to hate sickness. The whites had a disease, an
incurable disease in its final stage.
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