This Day in History

Jan. 23, 1935: Robert Parris Moses Born

Time Periods: Prosperity, Depression, & World War II: 1920 - 1944
Robert Moses with Freedom Summer volunteers, 1964. Photo by Steve Schapiro.

Robert Moses at the training for Freedom Summer volunteers, 1964. Photo by Steve Schapiro.

Robert Parris Moses was born on January 23, 1935, in Harlem, New York.

“The sits-in woke me up,” recalled Harlem, New York-native Robert “Bob” Moses, discussing how his involvement with southern struggle began.

When he first arrived in Mississippi in the summer of 1960, there was no student movement in the state. Moses was sent by Ella Baker to find students from the Deep South to participate in a SNCC conference that October in Atlanta.

SNCC’s voter registration efforts began when Bob Moses met Cleveland, Mississippi NAACP president Amzie Moore, one of the people Miss Baker had put him in contact with. Moore decided to attend the October conference and placed the idea of voter registration on SNCC’s table.

1963, Mississippi voter registration activists (l-r) Bob Moses, Julian Bond, Curtis Hayes, unknown activist, Hollis Watkins, Amzie Moore, and E. W. Steptoe. Photo (c) Harvey Richards Media Archive

. . . What SNCC workers learned while working in that small Southwest Mississippi city, and the surrounding rural counties, forever shaped SNCC’s organizing style. Moses nurtured the development of local grassroots leaders, and he recognized the untapped potential power and unheard voice of locals who spoke up at meetings and participated in voter registration efforts. Moses said

Leadership is there in the people. You don’t have to worry about where your leaders are, how are we going to get some leaders. . .  If you go out and work with your people, then the leadership will emerge.

Continue reading about Robert Moses at the SNCC Digital Gateway. (Text above is from SNCC Digital.)

Learn about Moses’ current work at the Algebra Project.

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Portrait of Bob Moses by Robert Shetterly, Americans Who Tell the Truth.

Well, I don’t think that the Democratic Party to this day has confronted the issue of bringing into its ranks the kind of people that were represented by the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. That is the real underclass of this country.

The Democratic Party primarily has organized around the middle class. And we were challenging them not only on racial grounds but we were challenging them on the existence of a whole group of people who are the underclass of this country, white and black, who are not represented. And they weren’t prepared to hear that; I don’t know if they heard. — Bob Moses, quote on Americans Who Tell the Truth portrait

Read bio of Robert Moses and order portrait as a poster from Americans Who Tell the Truth.

Find resources below to learn and teach about SNCC, voting rights, the Algebra Project, and Robert Moses.