In Memoriam: Robert P. Moses, 1935–2021

July 25, 2021

Convinced that political action was the key to black empowerment, civil rights activist Bob Moses played a critical role in the effort to register African American voters in the Deep South in the early 1960s. As field secretary for the newly formed Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, Moses initiated SNCC's first black voter drive in Mississippi in 1961 and pioneered programs in which adults received tutoring in registration techniques and voting mechanics. Moses's most ambitious undertaking was the "Freedom Summer" campaign of 1964-a massive voter registration and education initiative that brought to Mississippi hundreds of volunteers, including white college students, who worked to expand black voter rolls; organize a "Freedom Democratic Party" to counter the state's whites-only Democratic Party; establish "Freedom Schools" to teach literacy skills, civics, and black history; and open community centers to provide medical services and legal aid.

photo of a Black man in glasses in a contemplative pose
Robert P. Moses, 1935-2021 / Danny Lyon / Gelatin silver print, 1962 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution / ©Danny Lyon/Magnum Photos