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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Civil rights activist / Algebra Project founder to speak at URI
Bob Moses to deliver URI’s Eighth Annual Lecture on Multiculturalism

KINGSTON, R.I. -- January 10, 2002 -- Noted civil rights activist and creator of the highly-acclaimed Algebra Project, Robert (Bob) Parris Moses, will deliver the University of Rhode Island’s Eighth Annual Lecture on Multiculturalism Monday, Feb. 4 at 7:30 p.m. in Edwards Auditorium. He will speak on civil rights, human rights, and multiculturalism.

The recipient of a prestigious Mac Arthur Fellowship in 1982, Moses used the grant to lay the foundation for the Algebra Project, a national program employing methods to reinforce mathematical literacy as a means of enhancing college preparation and participation. In his view, proficiency in algebra was the key to participating in the evolving information society of the 21st century, and to first-class citizenship. In many instances, African Americans continue to be steered away from the mathematics classes that lead to college, math, science, and engineering careers; to high-level employment; and to civic participation, according to Moses.
The Algebra Project has won accolades from the National Science Foundation. Moses is one of the principal trainers for the Project and the co-author of Radical Equations: Math Literacy and Civil Rights (Beacon 2001).

Moses’ accomplishments extend beyond the Algebra Project. His life and times are chronicled in numerous books, articles, and films. Among these accounts are two seminal histories of the civil rights era, Parting The Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963 (Simon and Schuster, 1989), and Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-1965 (Simon and Schuster, 1997); a historical novel, The Children Bob Moses Led (Milkweed, 1995); a biography, And Gently We Shall Lead Them: Robert Parris Moses and Civil Rights in Mississippi (New York University, 1995); a dramatic film, Freedom Song (Turner Network Television, 2000); and two documentary films, Freedom On My Mind (California Newsreel, 1994) and Eyes On the Prize: Mississippi: Is this America? 1962- 1964 ( Blackside, 1986).

In addition to the MacArthur grant, his many awards include a Heinz Award in the category of the human condition; an Essence Magazine Award; and a Margaret Chase Smith Award.

Educated at Hamilton College and Harvard University, Moses taught mathematics at Horace Mann Middle School in New York City. He was inspired by black students participating in a sit –in campaign in Newport News during a visit to Virginia in 1960. Upon his return, Moses participated in a march organized by veteran civil rights activist Bayard Rustin. At the suggestion of Rustin, Moses traveled to Atlanta to volunteer with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in the summer of 1960. He conducted a field trip to Mississippi to recruit students for a fall conference critical to the birth of a new youth- oriented organization—The Student Non-Violence Coordinating Committee.

The legendary activist Ella Baker, the one time executive secretary of SCLC, mentored Moses and the other founders of SNCC. The strategy of SNCC stressed grassroots initiatives, cultivation of local leadership, and decentralized decision making, departing from the methods of more traditional civil rights organizations.

Moses returned to Mississippi in the summer of 1961, leaving teaching to commit to full-time work in the struggle for civil rights. As a field secretary for SNCC and director of its Mississippi Project, he emphasized voter registration as a means for empowering low-income blacks in Mississippi. By 1962, he helped found the Council of Federated Organization to promote collaboration between the various civil rights organizations. It has been suggested that his two major contributions were his role in mobilizing the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project of 1964 and in nurturing the development of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Through the Freedom Summer Project, Moses, other SNCC activists, and local supporters brought hundreds of college students to Mississippi to register voters and operate alternative schools. Through the MFDP, local citizens and their supporters challenged the Mississippi Democratic Party regulars at the 1964 National Convention in Atlanta City, N.J., sending a message to the state and the nation that blacks valued the vote and were determined to exercise the rights and freedom associated with full citizenship.

Stressing the moral authority of their cause, the MFDP ultimately rejected the compromises extended to them by President Lyndon B. Johnson and the Democratic Party leaders. In their efforts to impose the compromises, Democratic Party leaders and some MFDP allies contradicted the bedrock principles for which SNCC fought in favor of a media-driven, personality-centered, top-down approach to decision-making. The success of both the Freedom Summer Project and the MFDP campaign was to be found in the sense of affirmation experienced by black leaders in Mississippi and their allies; and in the massive media recognition and public support brought to their cause. However, a sense of betrayal by Democratic Party leaders spread through the SNCC and MFDP rank-and-file. Further conflicted by the belief that his own dominant presence within the movement was undermining the independence of local leaders, Moses resigned and left Mississippi in late 1964.

After a period as a draft resister against the Vietnam War, and as a math teacher in Tanzania in East Africa, Moses began the second phase of his remarkable domestic civil rights career.


The Multicultural Center will sponsor showings of the films Freedom On My Mind and Eyes On The Prize: Mississippi: Is This America? 1962-1964 during URI’s celebration of Martin Luther King Week, January 28- February 1, 2002. For additional information, call (401) 874-2851 or visit www.uri.edu/mcc.

For Information: Melvin Wade, 401-874-2851, Jan Wenzel, 401-874-2116

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