Born in Harlem, New York on January 23, 1935, Robert Parris Moses was an educator and an icon of the Civil Rights Movement. He was one of three children born to Gregory H. Moses, a janitor, and Louise Parris Moses, a homemaker. He graduated with honors from Hamilton College in Clinton, New York with a B.A. in philosophy in 1956. He was pursuing a doctorate at Harvard University and had already earned an M.A. in philosophy when he left school following the death of his mother in 1958. After returning to New York, he began teaching mathematics at the Horace Mann School in the Bronx.
Robert Moses–known as Bob–appeared on the civil rights scene during the early 1960s. His first involvement came with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), where he organized a youth march in Atlanta to promote integrated education. After meeting with Ella Baker and attending the founding meeting of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960, he joined the movement. Two years later, he became strategic coordinator and project director with the newly formed Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) in Mississippi. In 1964, Moses led the voter registration campaign in the Freedom Summer movement. He also co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which attempted to replace the segregationist-dominated Mississippi Democratic Party delegation at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Throughout his involvement in the civil rights movement, Moses was subjected to physical violence and arrested numerous times in Mississippi. By early 1965, Moses had resigned from both SNCC and COFO and began to focus on the anti-war movement.
In 1966, Moses, a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, fled to Canada to escape the draft. Two years later, he and his wife Janet (Jemmott) Moses, moved to Tanzania, where they taught English and mathematics for eight years. Upon his return to the United States in the 1970s, Moses resumed his graduate studies at Harvard.
In 1982, Moses founded the Algebra Project. which strives to bring “math literacy” to low income citizens. Moses argued that math literacy was key to improve economic and social conditions. He saw the program as a continuation of the grassroots work of the Civil Rights Movement and a “gateway to equality.” The Algebra Project has worked with tens of thousands of students across the United States.
Moses received a MacArthur Foundation Grant in 1982. Additional awards and honors include an Essence Award (1997); the War Resisters League Peace Award (1997); a Heinz Award for the Human Condition (1999); and numerous honorary doctorates, including one from both his alma maters, Hamilton College (1991) and Harvard University (2006).
Robert Moses passed away in Hollywood, Florida on July 25, 2021. He was 86 years old. He is survived by his wife, Dr. Janet Moses; two daughters, Maisha and Malaika; two sons, Omowale and Tabasuri; and seven grandchildren.