Born in Harlem, New York in 1935, Robert Parris Moses first appeared on the civil rights scene during the 1960s. After being inspired by a meeting with Ella Baker and being moved by the student sit-ins, as well as the Civil Rights fervor in the South, he joined the movement. His first involvement came with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) where he organized a youth march in Atlanta to promote integrated education. In 1960 Moses joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and two years later became strategic coordinator and project director with the newly formed Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) which worked in Mississippi. In 1963 Moses led the voter registration campaign in the Freedom Summer movement. The following year he helped form the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party which tried to replace the segregationist-dominated Mississippi Democratic Party delegation at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Moses left SNCC after the organization embraced “black power” under its new chairman, Stokely Carmichael.
Throughout his involvement in the civil rights movement Moses was subject to physical violence. He was arrested numerous times in Mississippi. In 1966, Moses, a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, fled to Canada to escape the draft. Two years later he moved to Tanzania and taught mathematics. Upon his return to the United States in 1976, Moses resumed his undergraduate studies at Harvard which he had left in 1957.
In 1980, Moses founded the Algebra Project which strives to bring math literacy to low income citizens which he believes will help better the economic and social conditions for black and, in the larger sense, continue the Civil Rights struggle.
Robert Parris Moses’s honors and awards include the 1997 Essence Award, the 1997 Peace Award from the War Resisters League, and a 1999 Heinz Award in Human Condition.