Bob Moses | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Bob Moses


Robert P. Moses, who turned 70 Sunday, is usually surrounded by young people, especially Lanier students and college-age mentors for the Algebra Project, which he runs from his classroom in Midtown.

The soft-spoken and pensive Harlem native came to Mississippi in 1961, a math teacher from New York City. He, like many other young idealists, came South to help blacks achieve equality, the right to vote, access to a good education and well-paying jobs. They were here to engage in nonviolent organizing—even if it meant that they were brutally beaten, as Moses was in McComb in 1961 by the sheriff's cousin when he tried to accompany two local blacks to the courthouse to be registered.

As field secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee ("Snick"), Moses directed the Mississippi Project—the 1964 effort to help blacks get past voting barriers (such as "literacy" questions like "How many bubbles in a bar of soap?").

But Moses' focus today is on helping young people of color get past what he calls "sharecropper education." He is a radical educator, a man who is determined not only to help young people do well at math—which he considers key to their economic future—but to enjoy math at the same time. Moses began the Algebra Project in Cambridge, Mass., while at Harvard to work on a Ph.D in the philosophy of math. He soon was awarded a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant"—$500,000 awarded to an amazing person out of the blue; you can't apply for it; they find you. Imagine.

In 1989, after the movie "Mississippi Burning" was released, glorifying white FBI agents rather than the real movement heroes, Moses came back to pow-wow with other movement veterans over how to respond to such disinformation. He convinced veterans like Dave Dennis that math literacy is a modern civil rights issue. Together they launched the Algebra Project in Jackson; until recently, Moses spent three days a week in Cambridge with his wife, Janet, a pediatrician, and four days a week in Jackson.

Today, Moses divides his time between Jackson and Miami, Fla. From his base at Lanier, he encourages young Jacksonians to speak up for themselves, and he listens to them. He teaches them organizing techniques that worked 40 years ago. And he tells them to talk back to people and media who misrepresent them.

We salute Mr. Moses and everything he has done for the city, and the state, over the years. He's truly one of our best.

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