A History of Our Time: Readings on Postwar America

By William H. Chafe; Harvard Sitkoff et al. | Go to book overview

A Lunch-Counter Sit-In in
Jackson, Mississippi (1968)

Anne Moody

The leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr., was critically important to the Civil Rights movement. His eloquence mobilized support throughout the nation and the principles of nonviolence he espoused shaped the movement for almost a decade. Yet the struggle for civil rights was fought, most importantly, at the grassroots level—by the thousands of people who boycotted the buses in Montgomery, who marched in Selma or Chicago, who registered voters in Mississippi and picketed stores and sat-in at lunch counters.

Anne Moody was one of these people. A young woman from a poor sharecropper family in rural Mississippi, Moody became involved in the Civil Rights movement when she attended Tougaloo College. Here, she describes sitting-in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1963. This brief, matter-of-fact account captures many of the key elements of the movement in the South: the role of local police and of the media; the complex relations with supportive whites; the purposeful contrast between the respectability of the African Americans who asked to be served and the vulgarity of the white mobs who attacked them. It also shows the bravery of those who, like Anne Moody, risked their lives in the movement.

I 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 class

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