1960s civil rights activist Robert Moses has died, 86

Robert Parris Moses, a civil rights activist who was shot at and endured beatings and jail while leading Black voter registration drives in the American South during the 1960s and later helped improve minority education in math, has died. He was 86.

Moses, who was widely referred to as Bob, worked to dismantle segregation as the Mississippi field director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the civil rights movement and was central to the 1964 “Freedom Summer” in which hundreds of students went to the South to register voters.

Moses started his “second chapter in civil rights work” by founding in 1982 the Algebra Project thanks to a MacArthur Fellowship. The project included a curriculum Moses developed to help struggling students succeed in math.

Ben Moynihan, the director of operations for the Algebra Project, said he had talked with Moses’ wife, Dr. Janet Moses, and she said her husband had passed away Sunday morning in Hollywood, Florida. Information was not given as to the cause of death.

“Bob Moses was a giant, a strategist at the core of the civil rights movement. Through his life’s work, he bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice, making our world a better place,” said the head of the NAACP, Derrick Johnson.

In 1963, Moses  and two other activists — James Travis and Randolph Blackwell — were driving in Greenwood, Mississippi, when someone opened fire and the 20-year-old Travis was hit. In a press release at the time, Moses described how bullets whizzed around them and how Moses took the wheel when Travis was struck and stopped the car.

“We all were within inches of being killed,” Moses said in 1963.

Moses worked as a teacher in Tanzania, Africa, returned to Harvard to earn a doctorate in philosophy and taught high school math in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He later taught math in Jackson, Mississippi, while commuting back and forth to Massachusetts on the weekends.

Moses started his “second chapter in civil rights work” by founding in 1982 the Algebra Project using money he received through the MacArthur Foundation Fellows program to improve math literacy among underserved populations.

“Bob really saw the issue of giving hope to young people through access to mathematics literacy … as a citizenship issue, as critical as the right to vote has been,” said Moynihan.

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