The subject of our project is
Bob Moses, Robert Parris Moses. At the start of this project we knew little
more than that Moses was the founder of The Algebra Project. When we told
people the name of our subject, they would say - oh Bob Moses of Manhattan's
Since that beginning, we've discovered that our subject was a central figure
in some of the most important events in civil rights history - the Mississippi
voter registration drives, Freedom Summer 1964, the culmination of those
drives, and the organization of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
There wasn't a book on the civil rights movement that we looked at that
didn't include a mention of him or his work as an organizer for SNCC (Student
Non-Violent Coordinating Committee).
As an organizer for SNCC in
the sixties, Moses adhered to the principles described in SNCC's statement
We affirm the philosophical
or religious ideal of nonviolence as the foundation of our purpose, the
presupposition of our faith, and the manner of our action. Nonviolence
as it grows from Judaic-Christian tradition seeks a social order of justice
permeated by love.
Through nonviolence, courage
displaces fear; love transforms hate. Acceptance dissipates prejudice;
hope ends despair. Peace dominates war; faith reconciles doubt. Mutual
regard cancels enmity. Justice for all overthrows injustice. The redemptive
community supersedes systems of gross social immorality.
Love is the central motif of
nonviolence. Love is the force by which God binds man to himself and man
to man. Such love goes to the extreme; it remains loving and forgiving
even in the midst of hostility. It matches the capacity of evil to inflict
suffering with an even more enduring capacity to absorb evil, all the
while persisting in love.
Moses worked to register
blacks to vote against incredible odds. There was little money to support
the project; the white citizens of Mississippi used every means, including
violence, to thwart their fellow black citizens from registering to
vote; the Mississippi state government offered no assistance and the
Federal government in the form of the FBI and Justice Department were
slow to support them. In addition, the people they were trying to organize
were very afraid and not even sure that being able to vote would make
a difference in their lives.
Through all this, Moses never
wavered from his commitment to his civil rights work. He suffered arrest,
beatings, numerous indignities and witnessed the sufferings of many
other people. Included in many of the accounts of voter registration
work in Mississippi, there is always a description of Moses. He is described
as a softspoken, patient, quiet, intelligent, moral figure. James Forman
in his book The Making of Black Revolutionaries reported that in the
late sixties, Moses dropped his last name and assumed his middle name
Parris as his last name. Forman
says that Moses did this to let others in SNCC assume more prominent
If one looks at his efforts
to register black voters or at his efforts with the Mississippi Freedom
Democratic Party, one sees that the results of his efforts couldn't
have been particularly satisfying. In some cases he had to wait a while
to see the fruits of his labors, or the results weren't what he had
envisioned. He has seen how long it can take to achieve justice for
crimes committed against blacks in the South. On May 1st of this year,
38 years after the crime, Thomas Blanton Jr. was convicted of murdering
four black girls in the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church
in Birmingham, Alabama. The parents of only two of these girls were
alive to hear the verdict. However, Moses to this day cannot take satisfaction
that justice was served, since the killers of James Chaney, Michael
Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were never convicted.
The Algebra Project continues
Moses' lifelong goal of improving the lot of his fellow human beings,
by organizing and empowering individuals and communities to develop
skills to reach out and attain what is rightfully theirs. The work of
growing the Algebra Project is difficult because there is resistance
from school administrators and government bureaucracies. In an interview
with us, Mr. Moses described the difficulty of finding a steady stream
of revenue to support The Algebra Project. He said sometimes his work
is like being in a desert.
Moses has been the recipient
of a MacArthur "Genius" Grant, a 1997 Peace Award from the
War Resisters League, a 1997 Essence Award, a 1999 Heinz Award in the
Human Condition. He was cited this year by the Mississippi State Legislature
as an "individual who has influenced so many lives in the State
of Mississippi". Two books have been written about him: a novel
The Children Bob Moses Led by William Heath and a non fiction book Robert
Parris Moses & Civil Rights in Mississippi by Eric R. Burner. He
has been one of the subjects of several films, and of an episode of
Danny Glover's series Courage on the Fox Family Channel. Yet he is not
The fact that he is not well-known,
doesn't concern him. His concern is with others and their future. He
truly has followed in Ella Baker's footsteps, who in describing the
civil rights movement once said: "I have always thought what is
needed is the development of people who are interested not in being
leaders as much as in developing leadership in others." Some observers
have said that Bob Moses, like Amzie Moore, is giving his life over
to waging a struggle for his fellow men.
In an interview in April of
2000 on the Mississippi Educational Broadcasting System, Bob Moses said
"This is my life.
And I learned it in the 60's. That is, I learned that this was my life
really living in a form of struggle. And I think that you can have a
good life in this country in struggle. I think it's one of the few ways
you can have a good life in this country."
There are those who are alive yet will
There are those who are dead yet will live forever,
Great deeds inspire and encourage the living.
Inscription on the grave of James Earl Chaney