Robert Parris Moses

Robert Parris Moses (born Harlem, New York, January 23, 1935, usually known as Bob Moses) is an American Harvard-trained educator who joined the civil rights movement and later founded the nationwide U.S. Algebra project.


Moses graduated from Stuyvesant High School in 1952 and received his B.A. from Hamilton College in 1956. He studied philosophy at Harvard and obtained a teaching certificate, then began teaching at the Horace Mann School in Manhattan in 1958.

Civil Rights Movement

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, Moses traveled to the South to try to register black voters. He faced nearly relentless violence and official intimidation. He and other organizers had asked for federal protection from the John F. Kennedy administration.

By 1964 Moses had become Co-Director of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), an umbrella organization for the major civil rights groups then working in Mississippi. He was a leading SNCC figure, and the main organizer of COFO's Freedom Summer project, which was intended to end racial disfranchisement. Mississippi's 1890 constitution included requirements for voter registration, such as poll taxes, residency requirements, and literacy tests, which had long made it nearly impossible for blacks to register and vote. Because the literacy tests were subjectively administered by white voter registrars, even well-educated blacks had often been refused registration on literacy grounds. By the 1960s, many blacks did not bother to try to register. Moses was instrumental in the formation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, a group that challenged the regular Democratic Party delegates from the state at the party's 1964 convention.

When Stokely Carmichael became SNCC president in 1966, the organization turned toward advocating black power. A disillusioned Moses quit the group. He then temporarily changed his name to Bob Parris and moved to Canada to avoid the Vietnam draft. After getting remarried, Moses moved to Eastern Africa. From 1969-1975, Moses worked as a teacher in Tanzania. In 1976 he returned to Harvard and completed a doctorate in philosophy, after which he taught high school math in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Algebra Project

In 1982 he received a MacArthur Fellowship, and used the money to create the Algebra Project, a foundation devoted to improving minority education in math. Moses now teaches math at Lanier High School in Jackson, Mississippi, which he uses as a laboratory school for Algebra Project methods.

In 2005, Moses was selected as one of twelve inaugural Alphonse Fletcher, Sr. Fellows by the Fletcher Foundation, which awards substantial grants to scholars and activists working on civil rights issues. In 2006, Moses was named a Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of '56 Professor at Cornell University.


  • War Resisters League Peace Award (1997)
  • Heinz Award for the Human Condition (2000)
  • The Nation/Puffin Prize for Creative Citizenship (2001)
  • The Mary Chase Smith Award for American Democracy (2002)
  • The James Bryant Conant Award from the Education Commission of the States (2002)
  • Alphonse Fletcher, Sr. Fellowship (2005)
  • Honorary Degree, Swarthmore College (2007)


  • Radical Equations: Civil Rights from Mississippi to the Algebra Project ISBN 0-8070-3127-5


External links

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