This book is basically three books and each one turns the previous one on its head in some significant ways. The book came out in 1968, but when you begin the opening section which takes place in the 1940s in Mississippi, and when you think about the title itself, it would be easy to think this book actually takes place 25, 50, 04 75 years previously, depending on the ways in which certain details allow for. This opening section is about the formation of Anne Moody’s family through the marriage of her parents, the very at-odds relationship her parents had, the discipline meted out to the children, and finally, the very necessarily break up of the parents. This is where the illusion of ancientness breaks as Anne’s mood is made so much lighter at her understanding that her parents needed to break up and how much lighter that made certain parts of her life.
From there, we move on the school — first elementary and middle school, where we learn about the small forms of stratifications and rules governing gender and race play out. There’s plenty of middle school weirdness at play in these parts. In high school and college, we get more about who Anne is as a person, what is developing in her and what she will hold valuable. The memoir hinges upon her learning about the death of Emmet Till, who was murdered about 20 miles or so where Anne Moody was growing up. And because he was from Chicago and she was from Mississippi and our collections feelings of the last 70 years has shaped it, it’s shocking to learn about the mixed reactions among the Black people she knows. This begins to show us the levels of repression happening in Jim Crow Mississippi. Once she’s in college, Anne moves on to a kind of near full-time activism, and finds herself at the center of almost everything, including having spent part of the day with Medgar Evers on the day he was murdered, and even saying afterward, that she needed to go get arrested because being in jail with other activists was the only place she could think.
It’s an amazing record of a time and a place, and because it was written in 1968 it’s seethes with raw and fresh feelings throughout.