Nothing motivates me to write in this space like the death of someone consequential. Many times it’s musicians or athletes who get my creative juices going, but today it’s someone who probably won’t get nearly the attention she deserves. I hope everyone knows what Anne Moody did back in 1963, but since it was so long ago, I’m afraid this is not the case. So meet Anne Moody, who helped us to get to a better place in our society.
I cannot imagine what segregation looked like, and this photo helps to fill in those gaps. In 1963, the lunch counters at the Woolworth’s store–like thousands more all across the South–were off limits to African Americans. No matter how good the food smelled, and no matter how hungry a person was, they could not sit down at a lunch counter and request service if their skin was black or brown. It had been that way for generations, and both white and black people thought that’s how it would always be. It’s great if you’re white, but not so great if you aren’t.
So when Anne Moody, who is the African American woman with salt in her hair in the photo above, sat down at a lunch counter in 1963, she was directly challenging the long-standing social order of the South. And when the mobs who were the beneficiaries of that social order got wind of what she was doing, they began to harass Anne Moody and her compatriots.
Was anyone going to come to her aid that day? Not at all. Law enforcement was not there to protect her that day, and anyone sympathetic to her cause risked the same treatment if they spoke up. So she sat there and took it; the language hurled her way, I imagine, was far more threatening than the condiments. But the look on her face in this photo tells me that she was going to have to be killed to get out of her seat that day. And from what I’ve read about the segregated South, that was a distinct possibility.
The heroism that Anne Moody showed that day is staggering. The angry white mob of teenagers and grown men were defending, as they saw it, their Southern heritage. If they had their way, people like Anne Moody would fold up and run away, and beg the mob to forgive their indiscretion for believing that they, too, were worthy of service at the lunch counter. But she stood tall by remaining where she was.
I first encountered the picture above in a history book, and if a better image of what segregation meant exists, I haven’t yet seen it. We’ll look at that picture today and think “Damn, that was some messed up stuff back in those days.” But some of those white teenagers are undoubtedly still alive. Their names aren’t worth knowing, but what’s important is to realize that they lost. They’re on the proverbial wrong side of history. Whether they can accept this or not is both besides the point, and entirely the point.
When Anne Moody passed away recently, I only just learned her name, but I’m happy that I did. This white man–who might have had the cowardice to join in the mob in the Woolworth’s back in 1963–is grateful to have never witnessed such a sight as a segregated lunch counter. And her courage helped to make that happen.
Even though I never met Anne Moody–or even knew her name until this morning–I owe her a great deal. All of us who realize how dehumanizing segregation was, on both sides of the racial divide, are in her debt. A few words in her honor here aren’t very much, but I’m happy to write them, just the same.
Thank you, Anne Moody. Your actions in 1963 were consequential and heroic. May we all have the same courage and determination that you showed at that lunch counter. The America I live in today is a better place for it.