While black Americans were technically freed from the bonds of slavery with the Thirteenth Amendment, given American citizenship with the Fourteenth Amendment, and guaranteed the right to vote with the Fifteenth Amendment, the reality of life for African Americans was marred with slavery to whites due to poverty, second-rate citizenship and the denial of voting rights throughout the twentieth century. While blacks and whites had an antiquated and hate-filled relationship, the relationship between individuals within the black community was often wrought with tension and conflicts. Coming of Age in Mississippi is an autobiographical novel by Anne Moody that chronicles her life as the daughter of sharecroppers in rural Mississippi. The novel follows Annes struggles with poverty and racism and her eventual growth into a black activist at the forefront of the Civil Rights movement. The Autobiography of Malcolm X is an autobiographical novel by Malcolm X, originally Malcolm Little, which follows his life in Midwest to his subsequent maturation into the one of the most controversial black leaders of the time. Both novels show the conflicts and problems within the black community, which can be seen as detrimental to the Civil Rights movement as the whites systematic oppression of the black community. Through the use of different symbols and the different paths of personal growth, the authors illustrate the tensions in the black community and the tensions between blacks and whites leading up to the advent of the Civil Rights movement.
The motif of skin color in Coming of Age in Mississippi, and the use of status symbols and the conk hairstyle in the Autobiography of Malcolm X all illustrate the tensions within the black community, the desire to be white and the hierarchy of blacks in society based on the lightness of their skin tone. In Coming of Age in Mississippi, Moody notes that the tone of the skin color of a black person determines their treatment from other blacks and the white community.