The Camel and the Scorpion is a book inspired by true events. It is the story of #StrongWomen - Caroline, Lydia, Anna - who spoke out for a good world despite the personal and professional risks to themselves in doing so.
This post is the second in my Strong Women Series. The series honors women and girls of courage.
|Photo credit: Fred Blackwell/Jackson Daily News, via Associated Press|
You know the 1963 photograph of the young men and women at the Woolworth's counter in Jackson, Mississippi.
Anne Moody is the woman of color sitting at the counter.
|Anne Moody in 1969. Credit Jack Schrier|
You may not know that Ms. Moody wrote a book. A bucket of icy water thrown in your face to wake you up kind of book. Coming of Age in Mississippi. It is a book of thunderous power. Written in 1968.
About that time at the Woolworth counter, Ms. Moody wrote:
…. at noon, students from the 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 … Then the white students started chanting all kinds of anti-Negro slogans. We were called a little bit of everything. …. A couple of the boys took one end of [a] rope and made it into a hangman’s noose. Several attempts were made to put it around our necks. …
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 counter.
Down 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.Days or weeks later:
… I had gotten another letter from Mama. …. she told me that the sheriff had stopped by and asked all kinds of questions about me the morning after the sit-in. …. She told me he said I must never come back [home]. If so he would not be responsible for what happened to me. “The whites are pretty upset about her doing these things,” he told her. Mama told me not to write again until she sent me word that it was OK.
… I also got a letter from [my sister] Adline in the same envelope. She told me what Mama had not mentioned – that Junior had been cornered by a group of white boys and was about to be lynched, when one of his friends came along in a car and rescued him.
Besides that, a group of white men had gone out and beaten up my old Uncle Buck. Adline said Mama told her they couldn’t sleep for fear of night riders They were all scared to death. My sister ended the letter by cursing me out. She said I was trying to get every Negro in Centreville murdered.
Anne Moody had to summon courage just about every day of her life, from childhood on into adulthood. There were challenges from all quarters, at home and at large, in the small towns where she came up. Obstacles going to college. Fear, stress, danger in her civil rights work.
Ms. Moody knew that choices she made might result in violence or loss of income to her family, friends, neighbors back home, because the white folks who wanted to keep the status quo - that's how they operated. Punish the community for what an individual does.
Ms. Moody's story awed me.
Even though she wasn't always likable. She was damn tough on the people around her. I'm kind of amazed her little sis, Adline, let Ms. Moody live with her when she became unable to care for herself. Because Ms. Moody wasn't always so complimentary about Adline in her book.
You can listen to Ms. Moody herself in this 1969 New York Public Radio interview with then Commissioner William H. Booth of the New York City Commission on Human Rights. Thanks to the Anne Moody Twitter account in general, and to Dr. Roscoe Browne's blog specifically, for this resource.
Women of courage like Anne Moody? They are who kept me writing The Camel and the Scorpion for 20 years, so I could share the stories of women like The Camel and the Scorpion protagonists, Caroline, Lydia, and Anna.
Honorable, imperfect, brave, vulnerable champions, all of them. Risking their personal and professional lives to stand up for their ideals.
Anne Moody died in 2015.