Robert Moses, Civil Rights Activist and Education Advocate
Robert Moses was a revered and influential leader in the fight for civil rights. He died Sunday at the age of 86. Dr. Moses was an educator who believed that math literacy was the next phase in the battle for civil rights, which led him to develop the groundbreaking “Algebra Project.” Dr. Moses came to Arizona in 2016 to work with “Promise Arizona” to promote the Algebra Project. While here, dr. Moses spoke with Horizonte’s Jose Cardenas.
Dr. Moses first got started with his algebra background in the civil rights movement as the field secretary for the student nonviolent coordinating the Mississippi theatre of the Civil Rights movement in 1961-1965. During that era, the issue of voting and the issue of sharecropping illiteracy were prominent. They took the issue of denying people access to literacy and then not allowing them to be involved in politics because of being illiterate to court, and they won that battle in the 1965 voting rights act.
Dr. Moses received a Master’s degree from Harvard in 1957.
The Algebra Project is a national mathematics literacy effort that began in the 1980s to help low-income and minority students to successfully achieve math skills. He considers the project to be a part of all that he did in the civil rights movement. “If you think about what we did with snick, and the civil rights movement, and Jim Crow, we were able to get Jim Crow out of public accommodation, we got it out of access through the vote, and we got it out of the democratic structure…we didn’t get it out of education,” he said.
Dr. Moses mentions that the Algebra Project focuses on solving what he calls the demand side of the problem. They wanted to find a way to get the people with the problem to want to demand their right to vote. They worked through trying to get the young people “at the bottom of society to demand what everyone says they don’t want.” They get the students to demand their proper education by giving them access to the world of mathematics, so they understand that they can set expectations for themselves about what they want to do with this ability.