Cambridge, MA — Known by peers and admirers alike as a gentle, yet firm presence, Bob Moses quickly established himself as a leader in both the Civil Rights and mathematics communities, with his partnership with The Young People’s Project and the founder of The Algebra Project. He exemplified what it meant to put the betterment of others first and uses his book knowledge to advance his own people across generations.
Moses answered the call to the Civil Rights movement in the early 1960s, leaving his teaching position in New York City to register the poor, disenfranchised, and illiterate Black citizens of Mississippi. He could not be deterred by even the most violent threats on his personal safety, including being shot at while in the car and famously having a knife bashed into his head outside of a courthouse in Liberty, Mississippi while registering Black voters. He continued with blood dripping down the side of his head, first registering the voters, then driving to the nearest town with a Black doctor so he could receive nine stitches in his head.
Robert Parris Moses was born to Gregory H. and Louise (Parris) Moses on January 23, 1935. In his early years, his janitor father and homemaker mother cultivated Moses’ love for learning by building his very own collection of reading material from the local New York Public Library in his neighborhood, Harlem. Moses went on to study at Stuyvesant High School, an elite high school known for its astute focus on mathematics. From there, he matriculated to Hamilton College in Clinton, NY where he earned his Bachelor’s in philosophy and French. In 1957, he completed his Master’s in philosophy from Harvard University and had begun his Ph.D. before returning home to Harlem to care for his ailing father following his mother’s death.
Moses was an integral part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Mississippi, an anti-war activist who spoke out publicly, and a founding member of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party before stepping back from the spotlight to live a more quiet life with his wife and children. Moses and his wife, Janet, relocated to Tanzania in 1970 where three of their four children were born. Upon their return to the United States eight years later, Moses shifted his focus directly to activism through math. When Maisha, his eldest, entered the eighth grade, Moses was shocked to discover his eldest daughter was not being taught algebra in her class. He insisted that she be allowed to work independently on work more suitable for her and thus, The Algebra Project was born.
Not before long, the innovative math philosophy that taught students to apply the same logic to a math problem as they would anything else in life garnered attention from across the nation. The program won many accolades and awards, including one from the National Science Foundation, and had spread its reach to nearly 10,000 students by the early 1990s. Moses took the program’s fame and used it as a vehicle to continue his Civil Rights Work. He believed that math literacy was essential for equality and dedicated the rest of his life to using math as a tool of activism.
In 1996, Moses stretched his activism with the youth and partnered with the Young People’s Project; an organization dedicated to developing young people’s academic skills to ensure they have a clear path to succeed both in and out of school. Young People’s Project is truly for young people by young people with three of Moses’ children as founders/members who worked as both facilitators and organizers traveling around the country spreading the YPP to Jackson, MS, Miami, FL, Chicago, IL, New Orleans, LA, Atlanta, GA, and Birmingham, AL, among many others. Over the years, YPP has celebrated many accomplishments, one being that students enrolled in both the Algebra Project and the YPP “enrolled in 9th and 10th-grade mathematics courses at a significantly higher rate; enrolled in college preparatory mathematics courses at twice the rate; and passed state mathematics exams at significantly higher rates” (TYPP). Today, the TYPP is ever active and successful in promoting academic literacy and self-advocacy in students in hubs around the country such as Greater Boston, Miami, Chicago, Michigan, and Mississippi.
Moses is survived by his wife, Janet, his four children, Maisha, Omowale, Tabasuri, and Malaika, and seven grandchildren.