Bob Moses, Civil Rights Leader Who 'Inspired Generations,' Dies at 86: 'A Great Visionary'

Through his work, Bob Moses became "one of the most influential black leaders of the southern civil rights struggle" and the voting rights movement

Bob Moses
Bob Moses. Photo: Rogelio V Solis/AP/Shutterstock

Bob Moses, a civil rights icon who was "at the core of the voting rights movement" and who also advocated for mathematics literacy among minority students, has died, according to the NAACP. He was 86.

Moses' death was confirmed in a statement on Twitter Sunday by Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP. Johnson did not disclose Moses' cause of death.

"Throughout his life, Bob Moses bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice," Johnson wrote. "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. Rest in Power, Bob."

Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, also issued a statement about Moses' death on Twitter Sunday.

"A brilliant strategist and organizer of the Civil Rights Movement," Ifill wrote. "A tremendous leader to whom American democracy owes a great debt. Truly, a great visionary has left us. Rest in Power, #BobMoses"

Bob Moses
Bob Moses. Rogelio V Solis/AP/Shutterstock

Born on Jan. 23, 1935, Moses grew up in a housing project in Harlem and went on to attend Hamilton College before earning his master's in philosophy at Harvard University, according to the Martin Luther King, Jr.Research and Education Institute at Stanford University.

Familial circumstances eventually brought him back to New York, where he became a mathematics teacher at Horace Mann School, the institute reported.

In the late 1950s, Moses started getting involved with the civil rights movement by helping activist Bayard Rustin organize the second Youth March for Integrated Schools in Washington, D.C.

He went on to join a number of other civil rights projects, including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Council of Federated Organizations, of which he was named co-director in 1962, according to the institute.

In 1964, Moses founded the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project, a voter registration campaign where he "recruited northern college students to join Mississippi Blacks conducting a grassroots voter registration drive," per the institute.

He also helped create the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party after Black people were excluded from participating in the all-white Democratic Party, and also campaigned against the Vietnam War, connecting his opposition to the civil rights struggle, according to the institute.

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Through his work, Moses became "one of the most influential Black leaders of the southern civil rights struggle," the institute stated.

Following news of his death, tributes poured in, with notable people and organizations expressing heartbreak.

Former President Barack Obama called Moses "a hero of mine" as he paid tribute to the civil rights icon in a statement on Twitter.

"His quiet confidence helped shape the civil rights movement, and he inspired generations of young people looking to make a difference," Obama wrote. "Michelle and I send our prayers to Janet and the rest of the Moses family."

According to CNN, Moses had a special connection to Obama, telling the outlet years ago that he was the first president he voted for in three decades because he was "the first person I really felt moved to vote for."

The Algebra Project, a national program founded by Moses that focuses on helping low-income students and students of color achieve math skills, also issued a statement on its website.

"His transition to that higher level only inspires us all to love, struggle and live with and for our people as he did, as we continue to work to realize Bob's vision of 'raising the floor of mathematics literacy' for all young people in the United States of America," the group said, in part.

On Twitter, New York congressman Jamaal Bowman wrote: "Today, the world lost a giant. Bob Moses charted the path for teacher-activists to follow. He showed us that democracy must start with loving & connecting with the ignored — and that they have the power to lead themselves. I pray that we will continue to follow his example."

Actor Wendell Pierce said of his death, "America owes a great debt to this hero. Bob Moses was an American iconic civil rights activist, known for his work as a leader of SNCC, voter education and registration in Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement. He's an ancestor now and demands we fight to protect our vote."

The Martin Luther King Jr. Center also added in its own statement, "What a brilliant, conscious, compassionately active human being. Educator. Organizer. Leader. Rest well, sir."

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