On the Passing of Robert Moses

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The Center for Racial and Social Justice remembers and honors the life of Robert Moses, who passed away Sunday, July 25th, at the age of 86.

Robert (Bob) Moses was calm, quiet, and dignified young leader of the Civil Rights Movement.  He was one of the leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), founded here at Shaw University.  As a field secretary for SNCC, he saw the desperate conditions faced by Blacks in Mississippi and was implored by local residents to bring more SNCC workers to Mississippi.  In the summer of 1961, Moses, along with members of the local NAACP branch, began a campaign to register Blacks to vote.  This work laid the foundation for Freedom Summer of 1964, of which Moses was one of the leading organizers.  In addition to educating Mississippi residents on the voting process and how to register, he educated volunteers on the tactics and importance of non-violence.  His calm and steady demeanor was often reassuring to Freedom Summer volunteers, many of whom came from the North and had never experienced the violent racism of the south. 

Yet SNCC did more than register African Americans to vote.  Due to the racism embedded in the state primary system in Mississippi, it was virtually impossible to promote African American candidates to local, statewide, or national office.  SNCC chose to challenge that system.  Under the leadership of Bob Moses, SNCC helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), a political party that sought to challenge the whites-only primary and electoral system in the state. The MFDP sought to challenge the Mississippi Democratic Party at the 1964 Democratic Convention.  Through his negotiating skills and strategic leadership, Moses was able to convince a strong proportion of Democratic leaders at the convention that the claims of the MFDP were valid, and they had a legal right to serve as the official representatives for the state of Mississippi.  Sadly, intervention by the Johnson administration nullified these efforts.

In addition to his work in Civil Rights, Bob Moses became a math educator.  After teaching for eight years in Tanzania, he received a McArthur Genius Grant and created The Algebra Project, a project designed to increase math literacy in underserved communities.  For Moses, the Algebra Project was simply an extension of the Civil Rights Movement. Both were efforts to make all aspects of American society accessible to everyone, regardless of race or class.

We salute the work of this gentle giant, and our condolences go out to his family, friends, colleagues, and students.

-Dr. Erin H. Moore, Executive Director


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