Robert Parris Moses : biography
Robert Parris Moses (born January 23, 1935 in Harlem, New York, usually known as Bob Moses) is an American, Harvard-trained educator who was a leader in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and later founded the nationwide U.S. Algebra project.
Life and career
Moses graduated from Stuyvesant High School in 1952 and received his B.A. from Hamilton College in 1956. He studied philosophy at Harvard and began teaching at the Horace Mann School in Manhattan in 1958.
1960s Civil Rights Movement
He began working with civil rights activists in 1960, becoming field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). As director of the SNCC's Mississippi Project, Moses traveled to the South to try to register black voters. He faced nearly relentless violence and official intimidation. He and other organizers had asked for federal protection from the John F. Kennedy administration.
By 1964 Moses had become Co-Director of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), an umbrella organization for the major civil rights groups then working in Mississippi. He was a leading SNCC figure, and the main organizer of COFO's Freedom Summer project, which was intended to end racial disfranchisement. Mississippi's 1890 constitution included requirements for voter registration, such as poll taxes, residency requirements, and literacy tests, which made it nearly impossible for blacks to register and vote. Because the literacy tests were subjectively administered by white voter registrars, even well-educated blacks had often been refused registration on literacy grounds. By the 1960s many blacks did not bother trying to register. Moses was one of the calm leaders that kept the group focused.
On June 21, as many of the protesters were getting settled and trained in nonviolent resistance, three volunteers went missing. Their names were James Chaney, and his two white co-leaders Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. These three men had gone to investigate a church bombing near Philadelphia, Mississippi. These three men were arrested on alleged traffic violations. Their decomposed bodies were found six weeks later. Needless to say these murders would hit home for the volunteers for Freedom Summer. Moses gathered together the volunteers. In his quiet manner, and humble overalls, he told the group this was what they were up against. He told volunteers that now that they have seen first-hand what could happen, they had every right to go home. He assured volunteers that no one would blame them for leaving. No one moved. All of the frightened volunteers stayed.
Another factor to consider was that this was by no means the first murder of activists. Many African-American volunteers were angered by the fact that these murders were getting so much publicity because two of the victims were white. Many were frustrated by the thought that white bodies were more valuable than black ones. Moses's approach helped ease tensions. Even the volunteers working at Freedom Summer had to struggle with the idea of nonviolence, with whites and blacks working together, and issues that went into making this movement go forward. Nonviolence was not an easy sale. Blacks and whites working together was also not unanimous. These tensions were enormous, but arguably, Moses's leadership style was a major cohesive factor for a number of volunteers staying.
Moses was instrumental in the formation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, a group that challenged the regular Democratic Party delegates from the state at the party's 1964 convention.Zeitz, Joshua. "" American Heritage, June/July 2004.
When Stokely Carmichael became SNCC president in 1966, the organization turned toward advocating black power. Disillusioned, Moses quit the group. He then temporarily changed his name to Bob Parris and moved to Canada to avoid the Vietnam-war era draft. After getting remarried, Moses moved to East Africa. From 1969-1975 Moses worked as a teacher in Tanzania. In 1976 he returned to Harvard and did further graduate work in philosophy, after which he taught high school math in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
In 1982 he received a MacArthur Fellowship, and used the money to create the Algebra Project, a foundation devoted to improving minority education in math. Moses taught math for a time at Lanier High School in Jackson, Mississippi, and used the school as a laboratory school for Algebra Project methods.
In 2005 Moses was selected as one of twelve inaugural Alphonse Fletcher, Sr. Fellows by the Fletcher Foundation, which awards substantial grants to scholars and activists working on civil rights issues.
Continued Work in Education
In 2006 Moses was named a Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of '56 Professor at Cornell University. He is co-teaching an African American Studies class at Princeton University with Professor Tera Hunter in the Spring 2012 semester.
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