Tribute to Bob Moses
Amelie Ratliff, August 2021

Dear friends — 

Along with some of you I had the privilege to call Bob Moses friend and mentor as well as my hero among heroes. He passed at age 86 last Sunday. Thank you to those of you who have reached out at this sad time and lifted up his role in our world.

Bob was a giant in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and later as an educator, founding The Algebra Project [AP] and pushing for Quality Education as a Constitutional Right. When I moved to Boston in 1978 steeped in the history of the southern civil rights movement, it was a thrill to discover that Bob and his family lived in Cambridge. I went to college intending to major in math. This did not pan out but I maintained my commitment to the discipline and its importance educationally. So when I learned that Bob had continued his civil rights work by developing effective methodologies for teaching math to children and teens in the lowest quartile, I was over the moon and determined to connect with him.

In the intervening years he joined us for math parties at my house and political education meetings with public school educators as well as college and high school students. I joined him and other Moses family members at SNCC anniversaries in the South and conferences of the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement. I traveled with his son Omo, a founder of the AP spinoff Young People's Project [YPP], on a YPP trip through Jackson, MS, and New Orleans, bringing a Birmingham math educator and my sister Mary with me.

One of the highlights of my life was when Bob and his wife Janet, for a short time my daughter's pediatrician, attended my 60th birthday party and brought Dr. Vincent Harding with them. What can top that?

Bob was committed to young people, listening to and talking deeply with them. He trained them as mathematicians, critical thinkers, organizers, and citizens. To hear YPP students take the stage in a room of adults and organize an activity or describe a recent action they'd led or reflect on an advanced political situation was to know these were the leaders of today and tomorrow.

Though he could have held forth authoritatively in most any crowd, that was not his way. He knocked on Mississippi doors and talked quietly to those he was supporting in their efforts to vote. He taught his students with a quiet and respectful demeanor. He listened and contributed to discussions as a participant. Quiet, yes, but fierce and constant in his commitment to civil rights for all--through voting, through math literacy, through universal quality education. He knew that if the education of those most unlikely to succeed improved so that they were successful, there would be a map for successful education for all.

I am writing to you as friends who are committed to learning about the South, its history, its challenges, and its leaders past, present, and future. On our 2019 trip we met Hollis Watkins and Mac McLaurin, other SNCC veterans of the 1960s. We ate dinner in Atlanta with current leaders Cliff Albright, co- founder of Black Voters Matter, and Emery Wright, co-director of Project South. And we listened to former AP student and YPP member Albert Sykes, ED of the Institute for Democratic Education in America, when we were at Tougaloo. When our 2020 trip is rescheduled for 2022, I look forward to introducing those of you who join that tour to these leaders and others who in their own way are carrying on the work of Bob Moses. He was a brilliant, kind, giant who will live on as our ancestors do, in our hearts, memories, and work.

If you're inclined to honor Bob's legacy at this time, please consider supporting The Algebra Project and/or The Young People's Project. No pressure, just an opportunity.

Thank you, Tim Plenk, for sending links to the following articles about him, the first the NYT obituary, originally published last Sunday, July 25, 2021:

Bob Moses, Crusader for Civil Rights and Math Education, Dies at 86 NY Times.

Algebra Project: Bob Moses Empowers Students NY Times.

Bob Moses, Crusader for Civil Rights and Math Education, Portside.

Remembering the most important civil rights hero most Americans have never heard of, CNN.

In solidarity as we continue the work,


Amelie Ratliff she/her/hers 617-529-6894

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