Another leader has gone home!
Civil rights activist Robert Parris Moses, who led Black voter registration drives in the American South, has passed away at 86 years old, according to The Grio. He was the Mississippi field director of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee during the Civil Rights Movement, working to end segregation. He was also central to the to the “Freedom Summer” of 1964, mobilizing hundreds of students to go down south and register voters. He endured beatings and jail but never wavered in his resolve to bring about equitable treatment for all in this country.
Moses was born in Harlem, New York, on January 23, 1935, two months after a race riot left three dead and 60 injured within the community. During the Great Migration, his family moved from down south, selling milk in a Black-owned cooperative once in Harlem. He grew up in a family that championed civil rights. His grandfather, William Henry Moses, was a well-known Southern Baptist preacher who supported Black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey and passed down his passion for activism.
“Bob” attended Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He was influenced by French philosopher Albert Camus whose views on rationality and moral purity for social change resonated with the young scholar. After a Quaker-sponsored trip to Europe reinforced his belief that change came from the bottom up. He went on to earn a master’s in philosophy from Harvard University.
In 1960, he went on a recruiting trip to the Deep South, seeking out the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Leadership Conference; he then turned his sights on SNCC. He said being in Europe gave him a glimpse of the fascism that kept people from voting, but he wasn’t prepared to meet the same fight in America.
“I was taught about the denial of the right to vote behind the Iron Curtain in Europe,” Moses said of his time in the South. “I never knew that there was (the) denial of the right to vote behind a Cotton Curtain here in the United States.”
When the young voting rights activist tried to register Black people to vote in Mississippi’s rural Amite County, he was beaten and arrested. An all-white jury acquitted the man of all charges, and a judge had to protect Moses so he could pass the county line unharmed. He would organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which fought to upend the all-white Mississippi Democratic delegation. However, President Lyndon B. Johnson wouldn’t allow his group wit cote at the Democratic Convention, yet allowed the pro-Jim Crow Democrats to stay, which promoted national press coverage.
Angered and disappointed by the lack of solidarity white liberals showed during the civil rights movement, he became even more impassioned. Moses began protesting against the Vietnam War and cut off all relationships with white people, even those formerly involved with SNCC. He went to Tanzania, Africa, and became a teacher before returning to Harvard for his doctorate in philosophy and taught high school math in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Moses started his “second chapter in civil rights work” in 1982, founding the Algebra Project thanks to a MacArthur Fellowship. The project included a curriculum Moses developed to help marginalized students succeed in math.
Ben Moynihan, the director of operations for the Algebra Project, told The Associated Press he had talked with Moses’ wife, Dr. Janet Moses. She said her husband had passed away Sunday morning in Hollywood, Florida.
Historian Taylor Branch, whose “Parting the Waters” won the Pulitzer Prize, said Moses’ leadership embodied a paradox.
“Aside from having attracted the same sort of adoration among young people in the movement that Martin Luther King did in adults,” Branch said, “Moses represented a separate conception of leadership” as arising from and being carried on by ‘ordinary people.’”
Seldom has a photo contained as much strength as this one of Fannie Lou Hamer and Robert Moses with fellow Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegates at the 1964 DNC, demanding to be seated instead of a slate of segregationists white Dixiecrats. (Photo by Matt Herron) pic.twitter.com/pVqHYGPfVgadvertisement
— Ashton Pittman (@ashtonpittman) July 25, 2021
— MacArthur Foundation (@macfound) July 26, 2021
Last night, we lost an extraordinary leader, activist and educator. His life work is an example of true dedication to a noble cause. Robert “Bob” Moses worked endlessly to better our community and now we must carry on his legacy.advertisement
— Martin Luther King III (@OfficialMLK3) July 26, 2021
Bob Moses, son of Harlem, has died. He shook Mississippi to its core as leader of SNCC’s MS voter education and registration project, organizing freedom schools & as architect of Freedom Summer.advertisement
: Bob Moses at a SNCC conference in Waveland, MS 1964 (Danny Lyons/SNCC digital) pic.twitter.com/xKGpzHEX0C
— Ashton Pittman (@ashtonpittman) July 25, 2021
Before I knew him as Bob Moses, one of the architects of the Freedom Summer and a hero of The Movement, I knew him as Uncle Bob, who tested out his math games with me and bought me Home Alone for the Super Nintendo when I was 8. Rest In Peace. You’ve done well. pic.twitter.com/2fREMg8cOm
— David Dennis Jr. (@DavidDTSS) July 25, 2021
Your dedication to equitable treatment for all people has inspired generations. Rest in power!
Photo Credit: Bernard Delierre/Clarion Ledger