Robert Parris Moses, 1935-2021

Robert Moses in black and white

Robert Parris Moses was a great hero of America, an exceptionally gifted and dedicated community organizer, a catalyst of social and political transformation, and a person of extraordinary courage.

The news of Bob Moses’s death last week was heartbreaking to Dr. Clarence B. Jones, and to me.  On behalf of the entire USF community, Dr. Jones and I send our deepest condolences and love to Bob’s wife Dr. Janet Jemmott Moses, and to the entire Moses family.

Bob Moses grew up in Harlem, went to Stuyvesant High School and then Hamilton College, followed by a masters at Harvard in Philosophy. In 1960, Bob Moses was 25 years old, teaching Math at Horace Mann High School in New York.  Then in a life-changing decision, based on great moral imagination and empathy, he threw himself into the nascent Black Freedom Movement in Alabama, Georgia and throughout the South — most deeply in Mississippi —  and became one of the movement’s most impactful leaders.  Throughout his life, he fiercely believed in access to high quality education for all children as a necessary path to overcome systemic racism, and guarantee freedom and opportunity for everyone in our country.  Working for years under conditions of mortal danger to secure voting rights for Black communities where citizens had been disenfranchised for generations by Jim Crow repression, terror and apartheid, he held firm to the conviction that persistent nonviolent struggle can enable our country to finally realize true democracy as envisioned and guaranteed by the Constitution’s radically egalitarian Preamble.

Dr. Jones and I were very honored that Bob Moses, his wife Janet Jemmott Moses — as a SNCC field organizer, a leading figure in the Black Freedom Movement in her own right — and their remarkable daughter Maisha Moses joined us in January 2019 at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands for an intergenerational dialogue on the power of nonviolence  at the 90th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birth.   Bob made a presentation to our gathering that no one present will ever forget, sharing his faith that through patient, nonviolent struggle, insisting on our nation’s revolutionary founding principles, we can realize the power of We the People, and transform our  country into a place where all human beings are treated with equal dignity, and all children are provided access to learning necessary to thrive in our 21st century society.

I will always cherish the moments spent together with the Moses family, meaningful conversations with Janet and Maisha, and the impact of Bob Moses’s intense passion for justice and equality.  I am deeply moved that Bob came to join us for this important gathering, even as he had physical health issues that made it a challenge for him to travel.  I will never forget his contribution, his voice, the depth of his egalitarian vision, and his inspiring call to action.

With this blog posting, we are proud to share with everyone in our USF Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice community a short video made by Jesse Dylan, Priscilla Cohen and the extraordinary Wondros production company, from filmed interviews Dylan made with Moses at our 2019 Sunnylands conference.   This short video has never been published or seen before, and we are grateful to our partners Wondros and the Annenberg Foundation Trust for making it possible to share it with you now:

Bob Moses: Stand Back Up

In Bob’s spirit we affirm our strong support to The Algebra Project — the transformative nonprofit organization Bob founded to mathematics literacy as an organizing tool to guarantee quality public school education for all children in the United States of America – and to his dedicated colleague Ben Moynihan and to all of the project’s staff and directors.

And we affirm our equally strong support to The Young People’s Project — YPP uses Math Literacy Work to develop the abilities of elementary through high school students to succeed in school and in life, and in doing so involves them in efforts to eliminate institutional obstacles to their success — and to Maisha Moses, the project’s inspiring Executive Director.

We encourage gifts to both projects in loving memory of Bob Moses, and to honor his living legacy.  Above all, let us remember his achievements and seek to follow in the path he set by his immense empathy and extraordinary example.

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Jonathan Greenberg