Today we’re talking about Anne Moody: an activist who played basketball.
Even if you don’t know Moody by name, I’m almost certain you’ve seen this photo before.
That’s her, on the right, at Woolworth's sit-in in Jackson, Mississippi. She was a writer, activist and worked full-time in the civil rights movement, including Freedom Summer.
She did so much in her lifetime. But she also has a basketball story.
Moody wrote about her time playing the game in her memoir “Coming of Age in Mississippi.” In it, she talks about growing up in Mississippi in the 1940s and 50s and her participation in the movement for basic rights.
Her relationship with basketball isn’t really a love story, but playing the game eventually led her (through a basketball scholarship to Natchez Junior College) to Tougaloo College, where she joined CORE, NAACP and SNCC and did civil rights work.
Moody started playing basketball because her grades were good and basketball was the only extracurricular offered to sixth graders. She was good. Her height helped. Her coach expected a lot out of her because of that.
And her first game was a disaster and embarrassed her, so she quit.
“Once or twice Mrs. Willis asked me to come back to the team,” she wrote in the memoir. “But I wouldn’t. It was one thing to play ball among people you knew but I didn’t like playing outsiders.”
But she went back to basketball when she was 14 and angry. She learned her cousin got run out of town for messing around with a white girl right after she returned home from Baton Rouge. She’d left in the first place due to the amount of violence around her: among many other things, Emmett Till, who was her age, was murdered, her classmate was beaten, and a family was burned.
“Before I get home,” I thought, “I’ll have a nervous breakdown in the street. I’ll surely get sick if anything like the Taplin burning happens this year. I’ll just crack up if I have to push anything else into the back of my mind.”
Then her mother suggested she play basketball again. She did and the sports, along with other activities, became her outlets.
After graduation she was in New Orleans working at a restaurant to earn money for college and wrote her high school coach.
“I hadn’t even considered going to college in Mississippi and I was tired of playing basketball. But now I had no other choice.”
Like I said, it wasn’t love. But that’s how she ended up at Natchez College. Two years in, she left for Tougaloo. Anne Moody was clearly headed to the work she did eventually, but it’s interesting to me that basketball was a part of her journey there.
Moody died in 2015 at 74.