For many years various social and political systems denied thousands of people their rights. For instance, in early 20th century black Americans did not have the same rights and privileges that their white counterparts had. As a result, thousands of human right activists pounced in defense of equal rights. However, many human rights activists had to overcome numerous barriers when they were struggling to create a society, where all human beings received equal treatment, respect, and rights. In her memoir Coming of Age in Mississippi, Anne Moody reveals some of basic challenges and obstacles that most human rights activists went through while struggling for social equality. Some of the difficulties were caused by social factors that made other people in the society lack equal privileges. Other obstacles arose as activists were performing their duties relating to elimination of social inequalities. Some of the problems included lack of support from families and relatives, violent threats from the society, denial of basic freedoms like freedom of association and expression, deaths, and lack of commitment of human rights activists.
Anne Moody is a female human rights activist. She recorded most of her contributions in her autobiography Coming of Age in Mississippi. Ann was born in a poor African American family in Mississippi in 1940. During this period, she experienced a lot of hostility from both black and white societies in her hometown. Many blacks worked in low paying jobs while whites enjoyed all benefits available for them in American society. For instance, houses of African Americans did not have electricity. This was unlike in houses of white families who had electricity all the time. With time, Moody went to high school and college, where she was able to join activist groups. It was the time when she started facing obstacles that most human activists experienced.
As Moody revealed in her autobiography, the most common challenge that human rights defenders faced were physical attacks from both the police and the society (Moody 123). During the process of struggle for social equality most human rights activists ended up in jail or under custody. While arresting activists the police mostly used physical force like canning, vicious beating, or teargas to disperse the crowd. Their methods of arrest caused injuries to human rights activists. Apart from police harassment and physical abuse, the society too abused activists physically. These violent attacks became common in different parts of the world, especially in developing countries where police had more authority and could infringe rights of citizens who were fighting for equality. In most cases, opponents of such activists often accused them of disrupting domestic peace or threatening the internal security. Today, this practice is still common. For instance, a part of the society has been insensitive and unable to spare human rights activists who struggle for the rights of lesbians and gays. This has been the case in most conservative communities.
Two similar incidents are described in the text of Coming of Age in Mississippi. In the first incident, Anne and Rose from Tougaloo College went shopping in Jackson Mississippi. Then they went in the ‘whites only’ section. The surprised and prejudiced white mob was intending to beat them up. If they were not rescued by the black minister, they would have experienced the wrath of the angry mob (Moody 267). The other incident occurred when Moody and two white human rights activists decided to sit in after they were denied service in Woolworth. However, when white high school students noticed them, they drag them by their hair to the doors of the cafe. “Sit in” is one of the strategies that human rights activists have used all over the world. The method is peaceful, it does not involve the destruction of other people’s property, neither does it cause confrontations with police officers. It is very effective and reliable.
Apart from physical attacks, the other major obstacle that human rights activists faced was lack of police protection. Like any other citizens, human rights activists had a right to be protected by the police. It is the role of the police to maintain law and order. However, during some peaceful protests, the police always failed to protect human rights activists. They set back and watched the mob beat up human rights activists. They did nothing even in cases even when the mob killed some of activists. This beating up is one incident that disrupted the purpose of peaceful demonstration and public peace. This left human rights activists questioning whether the purpose of the police was to arrest them or to preserve public peace. Moreover, lack of police protection left human rights activist vulnerable to attacks from any people who did not wish for a change to occur. A dead or wounded human right defender had no ability to perform his or her duties effectively. Therefore, lack of police protection was a major setback. In the text of Coming of Age in Mississippi, Anne Moody reveals that police officers failed to protect her and two other white activists in Woolworth. Violent students held them by their hair and dragged them to the door, while almost ninety police officers watched without taking any action to protect them from the crowd that abused them physically. Moody writes “about ninety white police officers had been standing outside the store; they had been watching the whole thing through the windows, but had not come in to stop the mob or do anything” (267). Human rights defenders have reacted by organizing most media conferences and press meetings. They complained about lack of police support and its unaccountability. This method proved to work several times.
Apart from physical abuse and lack of protection, human rights activists were experiencing numerous threats. Some of the individuals who opposed equal rights and reforms were intimidating human rights activists and their families. Human rights defenders received thousands of violent threats including death threats, which made them live in fear. Some have incurred extra expenses by hiring security guards because police officers were unwilling to protect them. Some moved to new places where they felt it was safe for their families. Others gave up because of these threats. Those who ignored the threats have seen their family members killed, kidnapped, or abused physically. When threats turned into reality, human rights activists went through much suffering, which did not allow them to carry out with their mission, Therefore, threat was another major obstacle that human rights activist faced. In Coming of Age in Mississippi, author describes a scene when the Sheriff threatens Anne’s mother to warn her daughter about the NAACP. He claims that Anne Moody and her family will find themselves in trouble if she continues to associate with the human rights movement (Moody 129). They responded to this threat by hiring personal security and reported to some police officers about the incident. Based on the text, Anne Moody tried to form her own security but her mother objected the idea.
Furthermore, human rights guardians and their families faced the challenge of detention. During activists’ demonstrations, the police usually arrested guardians of equality without any proper documentation. Most police officers did not have a warrant to arrest people during the protests. Therefore, police officers arrested activists and put them in jail without presenting them to the courts of law. The police also put them in probation centers meant for people with mental disorders where they went through mental torture and isolation. During this detention, they suffered a lot from lack of basic human facilities, lack of food, and psychological torture. In some instances, the police put relatives of activists in custody as well. Thus, the human rights activists were demoralized and opted to give up especially because of the suffering of their relatives. However, during detention activists usually used hunger strikes demanding for their release while their free friends organized peaceful demonstrations that attracted the media and attention of the public. In most cases, they exposed the brutality of the police and the police released them. The hunger strike approach was very effective. Nonetheless, in some cases, activists ended up with poor health and sometimes they died due to starvation. In the memoir the sheriff threatens Anne Moody’s mother that her daughter and the rest of the family will be in trouble if her daughter continues being a member of NAACP (Moody 134). The worst thing that the sheriff could do was to arrest them. A court could not order an arrest of the entire family because of a single person who made such a “mistake”. This means the sheriff would have arrested them unlawfully, which implied detention.
Furthermore, human rights activists have also faced the obstacle of denial of their basic rights of association, movement, and freedom of expression. In most societies where there is social inequality, the government denies human rights activists their freedom of association and movement through the courts of law and police. Human rights are universal. All humans have the right to association, freedom of expression, and movement. However, most governments that exercise social injustice usually understand that the human rights movement will cause political insecurity through demanding for equal rights. Therefore, they ban formation of these movements in their countries. Moreover, national leaders have ordered the police to ensure that such activities do not take place. Thus, most meetings and plans of human rights activists are normally disrupted by numerous arrests. Arrested people are sent into detention apart from being physically abused, threatened, or killed. This denies activists their rights to association, freedom of movement, and expression of their opinions. From the text, when Moody learns about NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), she notices that the organization is illegal in the rural parts of Mississippi. Human rights activists across the globe have openly showed defiance and joined these organizations especially in colleges and higher learning institutions. Moreover, they also arranged peaceful demonstrations where some of the activists had their mouths gagged as a symbol of lack of freedom of expression. This really shows similarity with the approaches employed by today’s human rights activists.
To sum up, like modern human rights activists, the human rights activists from 1940s and 1950s faced serious obstacles as many lost their lives or were wounded during violent attacks. From the memoir Coming of Age in Mississippi, it is evident that human rights activists went through a lot in their struggle against racism and denial of equal service in Woolworth. They defended the oppression and tried to defeat racism. They also employed methods like “sit in” and peaceful protests that most human rights activists employ in their struggle today. Due to commitment, courage, and determination of activists the movement was able to put racism to an end.