Bob Moses (activist)
Robert Parris Moses (January 23, 1935 – July 25, 2021) was an American educator and civil rights activist known for his work as a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) on voter education and registration in Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement, and his co-founding of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. As part of his work with the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), a coalition of the Mississippi branches of the four major civil rights organizations (SNCC, CORE, NAACP, SCLC), he was the main organizer for the Freedom Summer Project.
- Education is still basically Jim Crow as far as the kids who are in the bottom economic strata of the country. No one knows about them, no one cares about them.
- Attributed (2013)
- I've lived most of my life. What I would like to see happen in this country in my lifetime is the next generation get ready to launch the next lurch forward.
- Attributed (2013)
- if you think about the civil rights movement, what we were able to do was get Jim Crow out of three very distinct arenas in the country: First, there was public accommodations; second, there was voting rights and access to the political structures of the country; and third, and not well known, access to the national party structure itself — that is, to the Democratic Party. And that was Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the 1964 convention of the Democratic Party. And remember, Kennedy had been assassinated. Johnson had been moved into the presidency, but he hadn’t been nominated yet, right? And so, we won those struggles, but what we didn’t win was getting Jim Crow out of education, right? And that was actually the subtext of the right to vote.
- And Fannie Lou Hamer, when she testified — and, you know, Martin Luther King testified, but President Johnson wasn’t afraid of him. He was afraid of this sharecropper from Louisville, Mississippi. And when she went on to testify, the president said, “We have an announcement to make.” And he took over the TV, right?
- In Mississippi, in the '60s, what we worked was the demand side of the problem, right? You weren't going to get this country to change the balance of power between the federal government and the states, without the demand from actual citizens saying, “Look, you’ve got to treat us as citizens of the country,” right? So, what we did was get the sharecroppers, by the hundreds, to demand their rights. Now, what every reporter came up to me and said was, “Well, Bob, isn’t the problem your people are apathetic? Isn’t that the problem?” Right? And so, I had to wrestle with that question. But it became clear to me that our problem was: How do we tap into the energy of the sharecroppers and get them to make the demand, because as soon as they make the demand, that question disintegrates, right? It’s no longer something that people — if the sharecroppers are standing out there by the hundreds and the thousands demanding the right to vote, then where’s the apathy? So, we have a similar problem today with the kids. I mean, what is said is, “Well, the kids are dysfunctional. They don’t have fathers who are really…” So, as soon as you get the kids by the hundreds and the thousands themselves demanding what everyone says they don’t want — right? — then that problem disappears. That’s not the problem, right?
- We struggled with it in our generation. What were we willing to do to force the country to live up to its ideals, right? There’s this big gap. Talk about gaps. The big gap is between the ideals the country has and the practices it condones. But so, we had to do that in the ’60s, and this generation is going to have to do the same.
- What happened, I think, was Ella Baker was really sort of the godmother for SNCC. I met Ella in the summer of 1960. And in the spring of 1960, she had taken the initiative to get the student sit-in energy at Shaw, her alma mater, and held off on the big civil rights leaders, to say, “Look, the kids ought to have the opportunity to manage their own insurgency,” right? And so, SNCC was the encapsulation of the sit-in movement, the energy of the sit-in movement, right? And so, that — and SNCC took that energy into the Freedom Rides, because it was the SNCC energy which said to the president of the United States and the attorney general, “It doesn’t matter what you’re saying, that, you know, there’s some danger here. Our lives are in danger, but we’ve decided that, with our lives, this is what we want to do.” Right? And so, SNCC, really, and those students became the example for students all over the country — right? — the idea that students should draw a line in the sand and say, “Look, that’s it. That’s enough. We don’t want to live in this country unless we can change it.”
- There are a lot of young people that came out of SNCC, and not just came out of SNCC, but people who came down in to work in the Freedom Summer and spread out into the country — Mario Savio, right? — people in a lot of the different movements in the country. Bernice Johnson Reagon, who also came out of SNCC, and Sweet Honey in the Rock, that group of singers, all those were inspired by SNCC. And Bernice says the civil rights movement was the “borning movement,” right? It was — and SNCC was right at the heart of that borning movement.
- When I think about this, in order to become president of the United States, you have to be nominated by one of the two political parties, so the crucial thing for me was, in reflecting back, was the 1964 challenge of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to the National Democratic Convention, because that was where the stage was set that allowed this to happen, because without opening up the national political structure in the country, this wasn’t going to happen. And, you know, we could have gotten the right to vote without the opening up of the national political party structure. And the party structure wasn’t opened up by getting the right to vote; the party structure was opened up by directly challenging in Mississippi the right of Mississippi to send an all-white delegation to the 1964 National Democratic Convention. And it was Fannie Lou Hamer and all the people in that delegation that really forced the national Democratic Party to open up, you know?
- All I heard and all I saw was Fannie Lou Hamer giving her testimony. I had no idea that while she was giving her testimony, that the President, Lyndon Johnson, was so afraid of this woman, who had been raised and lived her life as a sharecropper and had been working on the Marlow plantation in Sunflower County, outside of Ruleville. He was so afraid of her that he went — you know, at that time, we just had the three networks: ABC, NBC and CBS. And he went to — notified all three networks that he had a special announcement, because he was terrified that her testimony was so powerful and she was so authentic that people would flood the convention, the credentials committee, with telegrams demanding that her party be seated. And so, he went and interrupted her testimony.
- But then the networks decided that this was really an authentic moment, and they replayed what she said that night. And they did flood the credentials committee. And so, I think it was David Lawrence, who was governor of Pennsylvania, who was the chair of the credentials committee. And so, he then postponed the decision, and they went after the delegates on the credentials committee. Johnson went after them, because the issue was whether there would be eleven delegates on the credentials committee who would vote to support the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and thus enable a floor discussion, in other words, that the issue — we’re talking about democracy, right? So the question is, are we going to be able to get a full discussion and debate by the whole convention around this really critical issue? And, of course, Johnson didn’t want that. He did not want this to go to the floor, because once it went to the floor and everybody had to get up in public and state their views, then the Democratic Party would have had to seat the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. And, of course, what Johnson was afraid of was that the whole South would then walk out of the Democratic Party. So this was really high drama. Barack Obama could not be running for president if he had not been able to secure a party to run for. And the Democratic Party, from the time of after the Civil War right until 1964, there were no black delegates to the Democratic Party from the South, and it was that action, more than anything else, which opened up the national party structure and allowed eventually what is happening today to happen.
- Judge Clayton looks over, and he wants to know why are we taking illiterates down to register to vote. And so, in a nutshell, our answer is, “Well, the country can’t have its cake and eat it too. It can’t have denied a whole people access to literacy through its political arrangements and then turn around and say, ‘Well, you can’t access politics because you’re illiterate.’” And we won that struggle. We won it in the courts. And it was Judge Wisdom’s decision in the case of U.S. v. Louisiana, where he said, well, we can’t allow the State of Louisiana to have authority over the actual qualifications of voting.
- In our country, I think we run sharecropper education. That is, an education that you can trace, when the judge asked me that question, because in the Delta of Mississippi, sharecroppers were assigned to do a certain kind of work, and so the idea was you only needed a certain kind of education. So, if we carry that forward into the Information Age, then we will have serfs in our cities, just like we had serfs in the Delta of Mississippi in the Industrial Era. And this is the huge challenge facing our country. I think what we need is a movement for our constitutional rights. We need a constitutional amendment, something which simply says every child in the country is a child of the country and is entitled to a quality public school education.
Quotes about Bob Moses edit
- Moses was very sensitive to the notion that people were dying by following his example. And that led to the point where after Freedom Summer, he dropped out of the movement. I think his influence is almost on par with Martin Luther King, and yet he's almost totally unknown. He spoke quietly, he didn't give big sermons like Martin Luther King,"
- He didn't seek out dramatic confrontations like the Freedom Riders and the sit-ins, but he did inspire a broad range of grassroots leadership. Throughout his life, Bob Moses bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice. He was a strategist at the core of the voting rights movement and beyond. He was a giant. May his light continue to guide us as we face another wave of Jim Crow laws.
- Along with the economic exploitation that the whole state of Mississippi inflicts upon the Negro, there was the ever-present problem of physical violence. As we rode along the dusty roads of the Delta country, our companions cited unbelievable cases of police brutality and incidents of Negroes being brutally murdered by white mobs. In spite of this, there was a ray of hope. This ray of hope was seen in the new determination of the Negroes themselves to be free. Under the leadership of Bob Moses, a team of more than a thousand Northern white students and local Negro citizens had instituted a program of voter registration and political action that was one of the most creative attempts I had seen to radically change the oppressive life of the Negro in that entire state and possibly the entire nation. The Negroes in Mississippi had begun to learn that change would come in that lawless, brutal police state only as Negroes reformed the political structure of the area. They had begun this reform in 1964 through the Freedom Democratic Party. The enormity of the task was inescapable. We would have had to put the field staffs of SCLC, NAACP, CORE, SNCC, and a few other agencies to work in the Delta alone. However, no matter how big and difficult a task it was, we began. We encouraged our people in Mississippi to rise up by the hundreds and thousands and demand their freedom-now!
- The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.
- A SNCC leader who shunned the spotlight, as Ella Baker did, Moses would provide a model of radical activism tempered by a loving spirit that would inspire and sustain those who worked with him.
- Debra L. Schultz Going South: Jewish Women in the Civil Rights Movement (2002)
- In his Harlem apartment in New York, a young Negro teacher of mathematics named Bob Moses saw a photo in the newspapers of the Greensboro sit-inners. "The students in that picture had a certain look on their faces, sort of sullen, angry, determined. Before, the Negro in the South had always looked on the defensive, cringing. This time they were taking the initiative. They were kids my age, and I knew this had something to do with my own life."
- Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States
- in one important way these young people are very much like the abolitionists of old: they have a healthy disrespect for respectability; they are not ashamed of being agitators and trouble-makers; they see it as the essence of democracy. In defense of William Lloyd Garrison, against the accusation that he was too harsh, a friend replied that the nation was in a sleep so deep "nothing but a rude and almost ruffian-like shake could rouse her." The same deliberate harshness lies behind the activities of James Forman, John Lewis, Bob Moses (activist), and other leaders of SNCC.
- Howard Zinn SNCC: The New Abolitionists (1964)