The Cornell Board of Trustees has approved Robert Parris Moses as the newest Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of '56 Professor.
Moses is a Harvard-trained educator, a civil rights leader, a MacArthur Foundation fellow and founder of the Algebra Project, an innovative math literacy program originally developed for inner-city youth in Boston.
In June 2005, Moses participated in the Cornell-sponsored Community Forum on Education and Society, "Equity and Excellence: Quality Education as a Civil Right," at Ithaca High School. When he visits Cornell, Moses will reside in Alice Cook House on West Campus. The Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of '56 Professorship is aligned with the West Campus House System to provide students with the experience of interacting with distinguished visiting professors.
"Robert Moses was a key leader in the civil rights movement, most notably the drive to register disenfranchised voters in Mississippi," said Stephen F. Hamilton, associate provost for outreach and one of Moses' faculty hosts. "He has brought the same passion, dedication and wisdom to the improvement of education for all, which he sees as part of the same struggle. His presence on campus will inform students about our nation's history and inspire them to overcome the challenges we still face."
Moses received his B.A. from Hamilton College in 1956 and his M.A. in philosophy from Harvard in 1957. He taught math at the Horace Mann School in Manhattan starting in 1958. He began working with civil rights activists, and in 1960 he became field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). As director of the SNCC's Mississippi Project, he helped the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) organize the Freedom Riders, who challenged the authority of the Jim Crow laws in the South, often with white and black participants facing mob violence. Moses and other leaders traveled to the South and demanded that the administration of President John F. Kennedy give them federal protection. He became committed to the cause and quit his teaching job.
By 1964, Moses had become co-director of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), an umbrella organization for all the major civil rights groups then working in Mississippi. He was a main organizer of COFO's Freedom Summer project to use voter registration to end the legal restrictions that made it nearly impossible for black citizens to qualify to vote.
When the SNCC turned toward advocating black power in 1966, Moses quit the group and, rejecting the draft in his opposition to the war in Vietnam, fled to Canada. He traveled to Africa in 1969 and spent the next seven years teaching in Tanzania. He returned to the United States in 1977 under President Jimmy Carter's amnesty program.
In 1982 Moses was awarded a five-year MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant, which provided initial funding to develop the Algebra Project. The successful program seeks to build the demand for math literacy across the country. Moses views the transformation of math education in schools as urgent a task today as was the civil rights struggle in the early 1960s.