It was a Monday in the fall of 1962 and Anne Moody was heading back to her dormitory after breaking up with her boyfriend, Dave Jones. Trotter, her roommate, was coming back at the time. In fact, Trotter had reliably been returning to the dorm at the same time for a few weeks now.
“What kind of meetings are you always going to?” Anne asked Trotter.
“I thought you knew. I’m the secretary of the NAACP chapter here on campus.”
“I didn’t even know they had a chapter here,” Anne responded.
“Why don’t you become a member?” Trotter suggested.
Fearful stories about the NAACP had plagued Anne since her childhood. She knew of men who’d been run out of town for mentioning the organization. Men killed under the assumption they were a member. The dangers were there, but she joined anyway. She’d always been a rebel.
A few weeks later, Moody jogged down the stairs of her dormitory at Tougaloo College, headed for the lounge.The historically Black college was already turning out to be a much different and better experience than her time at the all-Black Natchez Junior College.
Walking into the dormitory lounge, she could feel the excitement buzzing in the air as students fleeted back and forth across the room, their attention set on the television. Dave Jones and other Tougaloo students were picketing at the state fair, where attendance was divided between “white only” and “Black only” days.
Moody watched students converse with each other, making plans to join the next demonstration. The protest was a success, but it ended in police arresting the students with bail set for 8 p.m.
Around 8:30 p.m., students began to sit outside the dorm to await the safe arrival of their classmates. Moody joined them, silently standing in the back and observing those around her as time ticked by. She watched one classmate go inside to call the NAACP headquarters when sirens sounded and blue and red lights appeared in the distance.
Moments later, police cars sped through campus before stopping at the dormitory building. Moody watched as students swarmed the car, much to the fright of the officers. The picketers exited the police cars with students greeting them with cheers, hugs and kisses.
Somewhere in the crowd, a student started singing “We Shall Overcome.” Slowly, Moody and others joined until the entire campus turned into an impromptu church choir.
Moody’s activist work continued into the summer when she joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to get Black citizens registered to vote in the Delta. Her Saturday mornings were spent canvassing, but they always yielded little to no results. Rallies garnered small attendances from locals.
Through conversations with Black residents, she saw their fear, their hesitance, their ignorance. Some believed only whites could vote. Others did not know what voting was. Many turned away before volunteers could even begin speaking with them.
Even still, despite some resistance and distrust, Black locals did eventually come around to SNCC, but not without punishments and hardships such as losing their jobs or experiencing homelessness. SNCC’s response in the form of food, clothes and money, though, built trust between the organization and the residents. This change, however small, started to stir feelings of hope in Anne Moody.
For the very first time, she felt something could be done to combat the whites killing, beating and misusing Black people. No matter what, she was determined to make sure she was a part of that change.
‘A Long Time Coming’
On Friday, Oct. 13, the civil-rights activist and writer will be inducted into the Tougaloo College National Alumni Association Hall of Fame alongside Shirley C. Byers, Dr. Jean D. Chamberlain and Dr. Sandra C. Melvin at a banquet ceremony held in Jackson, Miss. Moody and Chamberlain will be honored posthumously.
Anne Moody’s sister, Frances Jefferson, expressed pride on her sister’s behalf for receiving this honor 59 years after Moody graduated from Tougaloo College. “If she were alive today, I know she would be very happy about this recognition,” Jefferson said in a press release. “It’s been a long time coming.”
Kerry Thomas, committee chairman for the alumni association, said the ceremony is an annual fundraising event as well as an opportunity to highlight the alumni of Tougaloo College. The association has a fundraising goal of $10,000 per inductee, totaling $40,000 for all four inductees. The donations go toward scholarships for Tougaloo students.
“They reach their goals by selling ads, donations and, of course, purchasing tickets and tables to the event,” Thomas told the Mississippi Free Press.
Every year, the association sends a request for applications for the Hall of Fame. Other alumni chapters have to nominate the inductees. Committees score the applications and recommend those who meet the criteria for induction into the Hall of Fame, Thomas explained.
“Every year when (alumni) are inducted, they have a plaque that’s placed in the alumni house on campus,” he said.
‘Coming of Age in Mississippi’
Anne Moody, born Essie Mae Moody on Sept. 15, 1940, was the daughter of sharecroppers. Later in life, she discovered her name had been recorded as Annie on her birth certificate, so she began using that name in place of Essie.
After receiving her early education in a segregated school system, she went on to graduate from Johnson High School in 1959 and enrolled in Natchez Junior College on a basketball scholarship. After two years, Moody then transferred to Tougaloo College and became active in the Civil Rights Movement.
She helped organize for the Congress of Racial Equality and worked with the NAACP and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. In the summer of 1963, she worked on a voter-registration campaign in Canton, Miss. That August, she attended the March on Washington.
During the same year, Moody participated in a sit-in demonstration with Memphis Norman and Pearlena Lewis at Woolworth’s segregated lunch counter. The waitress refused to serve the students, who remained seated as a crowd formed and grew hostile, severely beating the students. Police arrested the peacefully sitting Norman instead of any assailants.
After graduating from Tougaloo in 1964, she moved to Ithaca, N.Y., and worked as a civil-rights project coordinator for Cornell University. There, she began writing “Coming of Age in Mississippi.” The autobiography, which Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group released in 1968, recounts Moody’s impoverished childhood, her struggle against racism in the Deep South, and her work as an activist.
Moody married Austin Straus in 1967, and they had a son, Sasha, in 1971. The couple eventually divorced in 1977. She briefly lived in Berlin, Germany, and in other European cities between 1969 and 1984 before returning to the United States. Moody moved back to Mississippi in the early 1990s and passed away at age 74 on Feb. 5, 2015, in Gloster, Miss. She is survived by her son, four sisters and three brothers.
In 2018, the Mississippi Legislature passed House Bill 1153, designating a section of Mississippi Highway 24, from Woodville to Centreville, as the Anne Moody Memorial Highway.
Shirley C. Byers
Attorney Shirley C. Byers is the owner of Byers Law Firm, LLC, in Holly Springs, Miss. She serves as the Marshall County prosecuting attorney, the first African American and the first woman to hold the position. Byers received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Tougaloo College, a master’s degree in public administration with a specialization in finance from the University of Mississippi and her Juris Doctor degree from University of Mississippi Law Center.
She is an experienced adjudicator having served as circuit judge for the Fourth Circuit Court District of Mississippi. She has worked as an associate with Colom Law Firm, PLLC, and McTeer & Associates; as an assistant public defender in Washington County; and as a law clerk in the office of the Mississippi Supreme Court for Justice Reuben V. Anderson. During law school, she was a legal intern for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Memphis, Tenn.
Byers is an active member in many professional, civic and religious organizations including the Mississippi Bar and the Diversity Council for the University of Mississippi Law Center, and she chairs the board of trustees of the CC Taylor Foundation.
Dr. Jean Diane Kelly Chamberlain
Dr. Jean Diane Kelly Chamberlain was born May 26, 1951, to John Henry and Mattie Burks Kelly in Utica, Miss. She attended Cayuga Elementary School and went on to attend Hinds Agricultural High School and Utica Jr. College. In the fall 1970, she attended Tougaloo College as an English major and graduated in May 1971 one year early with her Bachelor of Arts.
She went on to attend the University of Dayton and Mississippi State University to earn her master’s degree and her doctorate. She married Clarence Chamberlain on Dec. 15, 1973, and the couple had two children together, Daphne and Nicholas. They remained married for 17 years until Clarence’s death in February 1991. In 1993, she had a third child named Marcellus. Daphne and Marcellus are also Tougaloo graduates, and Nicholas graduated from Brown University.
Chamberlain taught at Mary Holmes College in West Point, Miss., as an English instructor. Prior, she had also served on faculties at Mississippi State University, Middle Tennessee State University and the Mississippi School for Math and Science. She was an associate professor in the Jackson State University Department of English and Modern Foreign Languages, where she served as the department chair until her death.
She was a member of numerous professional and community organizations, including Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Colleagues and loved ones have said that Chamberlain prepared her students to be successful English educators and well-rounded citizens, provided direction on many dissertations, paid for students’ Praxis fees and textbooks when necessary, and prayed over each of her students.
The career educator passed away on March 10, 2015, with her son, Nicholas, by her side. Her daughter Daphne is now the vice president for strategic initiatives and social justice at Tougaloo College.
Dr. Sandra Carr Melvin
Dr. Sandra Carr Melvin has earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Tougaloo College and a bachelor’s degree in clinical laboratory sciences from the University of Mississippi. Her graduate studies include a master’s degree in biology from Mississippi College and both a Master of Public Health and a Doctor of Public Health in epidemiology from Jackson State University.
She has authored and co-authored various publications that explore health disparities related to the development of infectious and chronic diseases, such as COVID-19, HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis, diabetes, and asthma.
In May 2019, after 20 years in public-health practice as an epidemiologist, Melvin founded and currently serves as CEO of the Institute for the Advancement of Minority Health. The institute filled a need for the development and implementation of public-health interventions that include showcasing voices of the community and placing health equity at the forefront of decision-making.
She has managed millions of dollars in federal, state and foundation funds for community-based public-health programs designed to reduce health disparities among disadvantaged and minority communities in Mississippi.
Melvin has received several awards for her work in the community, including an acknowledgement in the Congressional Record from U.S. House Rep. Bennie Thompson. She serves as the health committee chair for the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP and has active memberships in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.; in the Jackson Chapter of the Links, Inc.; and on the Department of Health and Human Services Council on Health Equity.
Additionally, she is a 2022 grantee of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Community Research for Health Equity program.
As a graduate of Tougaloo College, Kerry Thomas is honored to serve as chair for the alumni association in the name of his alma mater, he said. He has learned a lot from his professors at Tougaloo, made lifelong friends and received many opportunities.
“It just means so much that I can give back to the school that’s given me so much by helping to chair this event, and we’re looking forward to another successful event,” Thomas said.
The ceremony is taking place during the college’s Founders Week. The committee chairman said people can expect a fun night that honors people who have done amazing things in their communities.
“Many of them started their educational careers on those hollow grounds at Tougaloo College, where they were able to mature and grow as valuable pillars in their respective communities,” Thomas said.
The event is ticketed and open to the public. The ceremony will take place at the Jackson Convention Center Complex (105 E. Pascagoula St.) at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 13. For tickets, donations and more info on the 2023 Tougaloo College National Alumni Association Hall of Fame induction ceremony, visit tcnaa.org or email [email protected].
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