The death of Civil Rights leader Bob Moses, 86, on Sunday will be noted across the world by those who believe in the cause of racial justice.
But Mississippians owe a special debt of gratitude for his service during the critical years of the Civil Rights movement in our state during the 1960s.
A native New Yorker, Moses’ time in Mississippi may have been limited to a few critical years, but the work he achieved endures and cannot be overestimated.
In every great social movement, people gravitate to those whose voices attract the spotlight, people like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer or those who became martyrs to the cause, but the success of any movement depends on those behind the scenes, the organizers and fund-raisers and field workers, the people who give substance to the rhetoric of the cause.
In that respect, Moses stands among the giants of the Civil Rights struggle in our state.
Moses was a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In that position, he implemented voter registration drives for Black citizens, most of whom had been disenfranchised by the systemic racism of Jim Crow rule.
To achieve that goal, Moses was a key player in organizing the Freedom Summer campaign, enlisting college students from across the country to spend the summer of 1964 helping register Black citizens to vote, conducting “Freedom Schools” to promote literacy and a number of other efforts to improve the lives of Mississippi’s long-neglected and much-abused Black population.
Freedom Summer brought national attention to the subhuman status of Mississippi’s Black population, stirring the nation’s conscience.
Moses was also integral in organizing the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which chose its own slate of delegates to represent the state when the state’s Democratic Party refused to seat any Black delegates to the 1964 Democratic National Convention. The fight before the credential committee did not succeed, at least not immediately – a compromise allowed just two of the MFDP delegates to be seated. Yet the attention brought to bear by the MFDP helped insure future Mississippi delegations would include Black delegates and would continue to grow as Black Mississippians continued to gravitate toward the national party.
Moses’ efforts not only opened the door for Black citizens to vote but to participate fully in their state government. His work laid the groundwork for Blacks to vote, run and win office and influence policy in a way that would have been hard to imagine before his arrival.
Bob Moses made Mississippi better.
Can there be a greater legacy than that?
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.