Robert Parris Moses
|Robert Parris Moses|
January 23, 1935|
Harlem, New York, United States
|Other names||Bob Moses|
|Alma mater||Hamilton College (B.A.),
Harvard University (A.M.)
|Organization||Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Council of Federated Organizations (COFO)|
|Known for||Mississippi Freedom Summer, Algebra Project|
|Title||Cornell University Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of '56 Professor|
|Political movement||African-American Civil Rights Movement|
|Awards||MacArthur Fellowship (1982)
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)
Alphonse Fletcher, Sr. Fellowship (2005)
Honorary Degree, Swarthmore College (2007)
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. Robert Parris Moses was one of the most influential black leaders of the civil rights struggle who had a vision of grassroots and community-based leadership. Although Moses’ leadership style was different from Martin Luther King’s, King appreciated the contributions that Moses made to the movement, claiming they were inspiring. Bob Moses was an important part of the civil rights movement. He initiated and organized voter registration drives, sit-ins, and Freedom Schools for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
He currently runs the Algebra Project, which is a continued effort to improve math education in poor communities with the goal of sending more students to the workforce. Starting as a civil rights leader and transitioning into an advocate for the poor through his work with the Algebra Project, Moses has revolutionized the ideal of equal opportunity and has played a vital role in making it a reality.
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.
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.
Over the past two decades, the Algebra Project has expanded from teaching math in one school in 1982, to teaching math in over 200 schools across the country by the late 1990s. The Algebra Project has a unique approach to school reform that intentionally develops models that are sustainable and focused on students. This is accomplished by building coalitions of stakeholders within the local communities. The historically undeserved population is a big portion of these coalitions.
The Algebra Project works to change common attitudes of our society that routinely promote the exclusion and regression of minorities. The goal of the Algebra Project is to take the students who score the lowest on state math tests and prepare them for college level math by the end of high school. This is done by doubling up on math courses for four years of high school. The main components of the Algebra Project are research and development, school development, and community and site development. The Algebra Project ensures that it is teaching it’s students with the latest research and best practices. In October 2006, the Algebra Project received an award from the National Science Foundation to improve the development of materials for Algebra I. In terms of school development, the Algebra Project strives to provide culturally sensitive, context-based, and site specific professional development opportunities to teachers. It promotes collaboration of teaching methods and knowledge. The Algebra Project also partners with local higher education and research institutions to help teachers develop professionally, train teachers on new materials, and provides them with programs to get certified. The Algebra Project collaborates with the Young People’s Project to help engage students in their learning process. “YPP uses mathematics literacy as a tool to develop young leaders and organizers who radically change the quality of education and quality of life in their communities so that all children have the opportunity to reach their full human potential.”  At its peak, the Algebra Project has provided help to roughly forty-thousand minority students each year. Contributions include curricula guides for kindergarten through high school, the training of teachers, and peer coaching. All efforts have the common goal of helping students grow and learn. Moses argued that Algebra was a “gatekeeper” subject because it was necessary for middle school students to advance in match, technology, and science. Furthermore, without Algebra, the middle school students would not be able to meet the requirements for college. Fifty-five percent of the students following the Algebra Project’s curriculum passed the state exam on their first attempt, while only forty percent of students accomplished this while following the regular curriculum. Students at junior high school sites who followed the Algebra Project curriculum scored higher on standardized tests and were able to continue on to more advanced math classes than their other schoolmates could. This put them in a better position to meet the requirements of getting accepted into college and become a part of the workforce.
Continued Work in Education
In 2006 Moses was named a Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of '56 Professor at Cornell University. He taught an African American Studies class at Princeton University with Professor Tera Hunter in the Spring 2012 semester.
Currently, Moses spends time teaching high school math in Jackson, Miss., and Miami. Moses’ son claims that Moses “has always been able to connect with young people. He’s never embarrassed or uncomfortable; he’ll try a math rap son, share his lunch or sit on a bus with 50 students on a spring break trip…he has a genuine interest in them as people.”  Still today, Moses is going strong as a teacher despite the fact that he is constantly traveling. He is still a vegetarian, practices yoga on a regular basis, and tries to swim a least a quarter of a mile each day. It is clear when talking to him that he is empathetic about people in all walks of life, and strives to listen before he speaks. Moses has always been a great listener, and always listens to the community. He claims that he got into the habit of listening at a young age. Once Moses has intently listened, he speaks in a “gently modulated voice” that not only hits its target, but is well understood.
- "Honorary degrees are awarded" Harvard Gazette, June 08, 2006. Retrieved 2013-05-04.
- The Heinz Awards, Robert Moses profile
- Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship, official website.
- Claybome Carson (1986). Bernard K. Johnpoll and Harvey Klehr, ed. Biographical Dictionary of the American Left. Retrieved 2007-11-02.
- Zeitz, Joshua. "Democratic Debacle" American Heritage, June/July 2004.
- "A Fletcher Fellowship Awarded to Bob Moses". April 2005. Retrieved 2007-11-02.
- Aloi, Daniel (2006-07-27). "Robert Moses named Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of '56 Professor". Retrieved 2007-11-02.
- "Once in a Lifetime Class with Robert "Bob" Moses During Spring Semester". January 2012. Retrieved 2012-02-02.
- The Algebra Project
- NOW program on Bob Moses
- The My Hero Project: Bob Moses
- Robert Moses's oral history video excerpts at The National Visionary Leadership Project