Robert Parris Moses, a U.S. civil rights activist who endured the beatings and imprisonment while leading the registration of black voters in the South American during the 60s and after helping to improve the education of minorities in mathematics, he died at the age of 86.
Moses worked to dismantle segregation as the Mississippi field director of the Nonviolent Student Coordination Committee during the civil rights movement and was central to the “Summer of Freedom” of 1964 where hundreds of students went south to register voters.
Moses began his “second chapter in the work of civil rights” by founding in 1982 the Algebra Project, which included a curriculum Moses had developed to help poor students succeed in mathematics.
Ben Moynihan, the director of operations for the Algebra Project, said he had spoken with Moses’ wife, Dr. Janet Moses, and said her husband had died Sunday morning in Hollywood, Florida. No information has been given on the cause of death.
This is a tremendous, tremendous loss. Bob Moses was one of the best Americans this nation ever produced, a man who helped the architect Freedom Summer and the effort to democratize this country. Losing these icons of democracy when our democracy is assaulted should push us to act. https://t.co/CsB77gDLX4
– Ida Bae Wells (@nhannahjones) July 25, 2021
Moses was born in Harlem, New York, on January 23, 1935, two months after a racial riot left three dead and 60 wounded in the neighborhood. His grandfather, William Henry Moses, was a Southern Baptist preacher and a supporter of Marcus Garvey, a black nationalist leader at the turn of the century.
But like many black families, the Moses family moved north from the South during the Great Migration. Once in Harlem, her family sold milk from a black property cooperative to help integrate the family income, according to “Robert Parris Moses: A Life in Civil Rights and Leadership at the Base,” by Laura Visser- Maessen.
While attending Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, he became a Rhodes Scholar and was deeply influenced by the work of the French philosopher Albert Camus and his ideas of rationality and moral purity for social change.
Afterwards, Moses participated in a Quaker-sponsored trip to Europe and solidified his beliefs that the changes came from the bottom up first before earning a master’s degree in philosophy at Harvard University.
Bob Moses is my role model to organize. Beginner, intellectual, humble, deliberate, willing to work with all who come, never eager but constantly challenged. Funny lover, kind, reflective, tender.
– Imani Perry (@imaniperry) July 25, 2021
Moses didn’t spend much time in the Deep South until he went on a recruitment trip in 1960 to “see the movement for me”. He sought the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta but found little activity in the office and soon turned its attention to SNCC.
“I was taught about the denial of the right to vote behind the Iron Curtain in Europe,” Moses said later. “I never knew there was (a) denial of the right to vote behind a Cotton Tent here in the United States.”
The young civil rights defender tried to register Blacks to vote in rural Mississippi, in Amite County where he was beaten and arrested. When he tried to file charges against a white assailant, an all-white juror acquitted the man and a judge provided protection to Moses across the county line so he could leave.
He later helped organize the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party, which sought to challenge Mississippi’s all-white Democratic delegation.
But President Lyndon Johnson prevented the rebel Democratic group from voting at the convention and instead left Jim Crown the southerners of the south, attracting national attention.
#BobMoses he is dead. What a brilliant, conscious, compassionately active man. Educator. Organizer. Head. Rest well, sir.
– In Martin Luther King, Jr. Center (@TheKingCenter) July 25, 2021
Disillusioned by the white liberal reaction to the civil rights movement, Moses soon began participating in demonstrations against the Vietnam War after severing all relations with whites, including former members of the SNCC.
Moses worked as a professor in Tanzania, Africa, returned to Harvard to earn a doctorate in philosophy and taught high school mathematics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Later in life, Moses, shy of press, founded the Algebra Project.
Historian Taylor Branch, who “Parting the Waters” won the Pulitzer Prize, said Moses ’direction embodied a paradox.
“In addition to attracting the same kind of adoration among young people in the movement that Martin Luther King did in adulthood,” Branch said, “Moses represents a separate conception of the commander” that arises from and is brought about by “ordinary people.”
The SNCC Legacy Project offers its condolences and love to Janet Moses, and her children Maisha, Omo, Taba, and Malika Moses to the passing of Bob Moses who was husband, father and an emotional center for the family. pic.twitter.com/W1boiPW0kP
– SNCC 60th (@ SNCC60th) July 25, 2021