Coming of Age in Mississippi covers a span of nineteen years, from when Anne is four to twenty-three years old. Moody’s own personal evolution parallels and symbolizes the development of the civil rights movement. Anne Moody was born Essie May Moody in 1940. She grew up in Wilkerson County, a rural county marked by extreme poverty and racism. Her family spent time working on plantations until her father deserted the family. Her mother worked as a maid for various white families, as did Anne, in order to supplement her family’s meager income. Just as the civil rights movement was maturing in the early 1950s, Anne also was maturing as a young woman. She was also becoming increasingly conscious of racial inequalities. With the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, Anne first heard of the NAACP and began thinking of the possibility of overthrowing the institutions that oppressed Black Americans.

Toosweet and the rest of the family do not understand Anne’s ambitions. Around the time that Anne is graduating from high school in the late 1950s, the movement to end segregation has prompted the government to build new, better schools for Black students. But Anne believes that they should not settle for anything less than complete equality as represented by integration. Even when Anne graduates from college, her family does not attend the ceremony. Anne’s separation from them is symbolic of the civil rights movement’s necessary break with the older, limited realities of southern blacks. It is also a very painful, personal coming of age. Anne’s conflict with her family is one of the most universal aspects of Coming of Age in Mississippi.