Bob Moses, civil rights movement legend and mathematician, died 86

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The late James Forman, in his book “The Making of Black Revolutionaries”, noted the arrival of Bob Moses in the civil rights movement. “A teacher at a New York City school, Moses quit his job and started working full time for voter registration in Mississippi. He did not attend the workshop [preparing volunteers] but his ideas would soon feed the mainstream of students in the South as they thought about what forms of action to take.

Forman, who served as executive secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee from 1961 to 1966, not only chronicled Moses’ arrival in the summer of 1961, he witnessed his courageous and relentless commitment to overthrow the Jim Crow racism. Moses was in McComb, Mississippi, but days before he had been brutally beaten for leading a group of black citizens to register to vote. This moment embodied the legendary civil rights activist who died on July 25 at his home in Hollywood, Florida. He was 86 years old and no cause of death was specified.

Beaten, shot, arrested and imprisoned, none of these acts of terrorism stopped Moses in his fight for equal rights and against the tyranny that prevented countless black Americans from exercising their democratic rights. In his book “Radical Equations — Math Literacy and Civil Rights,” co-authored with Charles Cobb Jr., Moses says “the sit-ins woke me up. Until then, my black life had been one of conflict. I was a 26-year-old teacher at Horace Mann, an elite private school in the Bronx, traveling back and forth between the starkly contrasting worlds of Hamilton College, Harvard University, Horace Mann, and Harlem.

Mississippi may have been another eye-opener, but he was born Robert Parris Moses in Harlem on January 23, 1935. He graduated from elite Stuyvesant High School in 1952 and four years later received his BA from Hamilton. Middle School. After earning his Masters in Philosophy from Harvard University, he began teaching at Horace Mann High School.

Before finally following his impulse to join the civil rights movement, he had ventured into Mississippi, but the young people attending the sit-ins sealed the engagement. Rather than fully embracing Dr King’s style and tactics, Moses improvised on those proposed by Ella Baker, “work quietly in remote places” and tackle the “root” causes of the problem. Such a strategy, however, did not shield him from the brutal reception he received from the arch-segregationists. And even in those remote places, he was highly visible in his role as SNCC’s Mississippi Project Director and traveled from county to county.

His fearless leadership quickly gained wide recognition and in 1964 he became co-director of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) and therefore a key organizer of the Freedom Summer Project to educate and register black people to vote. The initiative received public notice when the bodies of three of its volunteers – James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman – were found in a buried earth dam. It was a terrifying incident, and it was all that Moses could do to calm the other volunteers and keep them from leaving.

When Fannie Lou Hamer and his cohort formed the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, Moses was a vital ally, but he was disheartened by the results and this, along with other setbacks, led to his resignation from COFO and even the States- United – he settled in East Africa. nation of Tanzania. In 1976, he returned to the United States and began graduate studies at Harvard in Philosophy of Mathematics while teaching in high school in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

He received a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship in 1982 and used that award to create the Algebra Project, primarily to improve the math skills of black Americans and other minority groups. The project received an award from the National Science Foundation in 2006 for developing its innovative approach to teaching algebra which it saw as an opening to a broader understanding of science, technology and other facets. of our culture.

In 2006 he was appointed Frank HT Rhodes Class of ’56 Professor at Cornell University. With the publication of his book “Radical Equations” in 2001, his circuit of academic lectures expanded exponentially as well as honorary degrees.

The civil rights icon and mathematician is survived by his wife, Janet Moses, his daughters Maisha and Malaika; his sons Omowale and Tabasuri, and seven grandchildren.


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