Robert Parris Moses
Civil rights activist and founder of the Algebra Project
Robert Parris Moses is a Harvard-trained educator who joined the civil rights movement and later founded the Algebra Project. Moses received his B.A. from Hamilton College in 1956. He studied philosophy at Harvard, and obtained a teaching certificate and taught at the Horace Mann School in Manhattan from 1958. He began working with civil rights activists in 1960, becoming field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). As director of the SNCC's Mississippi Project, he helped the Congress of Racial Equality organize the Freedom Riders, who challenged the authority of Jim Crow racial control in the South, often with its white and black participants facing mob violence. Moses and other leaders traveled to the South themselves and demanded federal protection from the John F. Kennedy administration. After this he became committed to the cause and quit his teaching job.
By 1964 Moses had become Co-Director of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), an umbrella organization for all the major civil rights groups then working in Mississippi, and a leading SNCC figure. Moses was a main organizer of COFO's Freedom Summer project, which was intended to end racial disenfranchisement by voter registration, under legal restrictions which made it nearly impossible for black citizens to qualify to vote.
When, in 1966, the SNCC turned toward advocating black power, Moses quit the group. Pursued by the Vietnam draft board for a war which he opposed, Moses fled to Canada in 1966 before departing for Africa in 1969 to spend the next six years teaching in Tanzania. Returning in 1977 under President Carter's amnesty program, he was awarded a five-year MacArthur genius grant in 1982 to establish and develop an innovative program to teach math to Boston's inner-city youth called the Algebra Project. The successful program seeks to build the demand for math literacy in local sites across the country and views this focus as a continuation of the Civil Rights struggle in which transforming math education in our schools is as urgent in today's world as was winning the right to vote in the Jim Crow South in the early '60s.