*Robert Parris Moses, a civil rights activist who was shot at and endured beatings and jail while leading Black voter registration drives in the American South during the 1960s and later helped improve minority education in math, died in Hollywood, Florida Sunday at age 86.
Moses, widely known as Bob, worked as the Mississippi field director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the civil rights movement and was central to the 1964 “Freedom Summer” which saw hundreds of students travelling to the South toregister voters.
In 1982, he launched the Algebra Project thanks to a MacArthur Fellowship. The project included a curriculum Moses developed to help struggling students succeed in math. Moses talks about the origins of the Algebra Project below:
Moses was born in Harlem, New York, on January 23, 1935, two months after a race riot left three dead and injured 60 in the neighborhood. His grandfather, William Henry Moses, had been a prominent Southern Baptist preacher and a supporter of Black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey. The Moses family moved north from the South during the Great Migration. Once in Harlem, his family sold milk from a Black-owned cooperative to help supplement the household income, according to “Robert Parris Moses: A Life in Civil Rights and Leadership at the Grassroots,” 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 French philosopher Albert Camus and his ideas of rationality and moral purity for social change. Moses then took part in a Quaker-sponsored trip to Europe and solidified his beliefs that change came from the bottom up before earning a master’s in philosophy at Harvard University.
A reoccurring theme in Moses’ life and work was the need to listen and work with the local populations where activists were trying to affect change whether that was registering Black voters in some of the most staunchly anti-integration parts of Mississippi or years later working with students and teachers to come up with ways to improve math knowledge.
Below, Moses is interviewed for the Julian Bond Oral History project in Cambridge, Massachusetts on November 26th, 2018. He discusses his upbringing and educational background, his decision to join the Southern freedom movement, his voter registration work in Mississippi, planning for Freedom Summer and his impressions of and relationship with Julian Bond.