Friday, February 19, 2016


   Probably one of the lesser known greats of the civil rights movement, Robert Parris Moses is known lately as an educator and founder of The Algebra Project.  Possibly the most down-to-earth brilliantly educated organizer of the struggle, he recognized the potential of every person as he organized for voting rights in Mississippi.  He encouraged people such as Fannie Lou Hamer to take leadership, rather than putting himself forward.   It was Bob Moses who came up with the idea for the Freedom Summer project inviting northern college students down to organize for voting rights in 1963.  Bob Moses also thought up the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, led by Fannie Lou Hamer, to challenge the racism of the Democratic Party in 1964.  And so much more.

   Precisely because he was so intelligent and yet so modest, his influence was great.  Born in Harlem in 1935, he attended public schools, Stuyvesant High School, and then a scholarship to Hamilton College in Clinton, New York.  He earned a Masters Degree from Harvard University.  He was working toward a Doctorate when his mother died and his father became ill, so he returned to New York and became a school teacher at Horace Mann School.
   When he finally stepped down from his role in the civil rights movement, he returned to New York and organized against the war in Vietnam.   "Throughout his involvement in the civil rights movement Moses was subject to physical violence. He was arrested numerous times in Mississippi. In 1966, Moses, a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, fled to Canada to escape the draft. Two years later he moved to Tanzania and taught mathematics. Upon his return to the United States in 1976, Moses resumed his undergraduate studies at Harvard which he had left in 1957."
- See more at:  

   From Americans Who Tell The Truth website:  "In a 2013 interview, the historian Taylor Branch explained Robert Parris Moses’s significance to the American Civil Rights Movement: "To this day he is a startling paradox," Branch said. "I think his influence is almost on par with Martin Luther King, and yet he's almost totally unknown." Through his years as a Civil Rights organizer, Moses was self-effacing, observant and sensitive. These characteristics kept him out of the spotlight, but made for a highly effective leader."

   "For this work, Moses was awarded the MacArthur "Genius Grant" in 1982. Not content to rest after past achievements, Moses moved forward with a new civil rights agenda: education. He used the MacArthur grant to start The Algebra Project (AP), which helps the lowest-performing students prepare for college math and twenty-first century careers."

   “AP’s unique approach to school reform intentionally develops sustainable, student-centered models by building coalitions of stakeholders within the local communities, particularly the historically underserved population. Since 2000, we have continued to provide the context in which students, schools, parents and communities maximize local resources and take ownership of their own community building and mathematics education reform efforts.”
   "In 2001, Moses published a book, Radical Equations: Civil Rights from Mississippi to the Algebra Project. There he explains how the principles of the Civil Rights Movement can be applied to the fight for equitable public education. "Everyone said sharecroppers didn't want to vote. It wasn't until we got them demanding to vote that we got attention. Today, when kids are falling wholesale through the cracks, people say they don't want to learn. We have to get the kids themselves to demand what everyone says they don't want.” In the book, Moses explains how community involvement is the key to successfully changing schools and communities for the better."

   "In addition to the MacArthur Fellowship, Moses has received several awards for his work, including the War Resisters League Peace Award (1997), Heinz Award for the Human Condition (2000), Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship (2001), Margaret Chase Smith American Democracy Award (2002), James Bryant Conant Award (2002) and Alphonse Fletcher, Sr. Fellowship (2005). At an age where most are retired, Moses continues teaching in Algebra Project schools and traveling, sharing his model for community-building and improving education all over the United States."

“Well, I don’t think that the Democratic Party to this day has confronted the issue of bringing into its ranks the kind of people that were represented by the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. That is the real underclass of this country. The Democratic Party primarily has organized around the middle class. And we were challenging them not only on racial grounds but we were challenging them on the existence of a whole group of people who are the underclass of this country, white and black, who are not represented. And they weren’t prepared to hear that; I don’t know if they heard.” — Bob Moses, quote on portrait

Civil Rights Digital Library - 
King Encyclopedia -  
Americans Who Tell the Truth - 
Black Past - 
American Radio Works - Say It Plain, Say It Loud  Robert Moses Speech on Freedom Summer.
Mississippi Freedom Summer 50 Years -   
Zinn Education Project - 

Readings (from American Radio Works - see above)
1. Robert P. Moses, Radical Equations — Civil Rights from Mississippi to the Algebra Project (Boston: Beacon Press, 2001), 3.
2. Adam Fairclough, Better Day Coming: Blacks and Equality, 1890-2000 (New York: Penguin, 2001), 256-58.
3. Tom Hayden, "Bob Moses: His Technique Is to Be A Catalyst in People's Efforts to Free Themselves," The Nation, July 21, 2003, 34.
4. David Harris quoted by Richard J. Jensen and John C. Hammerback, "Robert Parris Moses," African-American Orators: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996), 261.
5. Moses, 73.
6. Dudley Lehew, "Mississippi Summer Project to Go On Through Winter," AP report in Sarasota Herald Tribune, August 27, 1964, 14.
7. Moses, 69.
8. John Dittmer, Local People — The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1994) 102.
9. Dittmer, 424.

No comments:

Post a Comment