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Robert Moses: Mobilizing for Children

IN the early 1960s, civil rights leader Robert Moses survived beatings and rifle assaults while teaching backwoods Mississippi sharecroppers how to read and write. But by 1965, he felt a different pressure - a growing bitterness over America. In '64 his efforts to help seat the black Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the Democratic Convention in Atlantic City had failed. Soon, Mr. Moses became convinced that Martin Luther King's advisers, particularly Bayard Rustin, had persuaded Dr. King that morality and politics could no longer mix.

``That's when King, who had dominated with the tactic of moral force, lost the issue; derailed it,'' Moses says.

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``Stokely Carmichael [a prominent member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee] learned the lesson well, and the first chance he got, he yelled `black power,' and that was it. We lost the ability to speak to the inner city.''

The helter-skelter politics of Vietnam completed the job on Moses - and he left the United States to live in Tanzania with other expatriate blacks.

The experiment didn't work. The politically sophisticated American blacks were a threat to the tribal culture and hierarchy of Tanzania. The Americans were denied citizenship.

Eventually Moses returned home and continued the doctoral studies in philosophy at Harvard he had left in the late '50s. He feels today that civil rights is moving toward the need to more deliberately help with ``children's development.''

``What you are faced with,'' he says, ``is a lack of a concept within our community of the need to invest in personal development. It's there for a few. But we've lost the idea of one generation investing in the next.''

The idea of the Algebra Project and math literacy is just the entering wedge to the question of ``the economic and political arrangements being made as we shift from an industrial base to a high-tech base.'' Blacks have to pay attention to this shift, he says.

``In the '60s things began to center around the question of the right to vote. It built over a number of years, and then finally mobilized enough of the society to make a dent, do something. People began to see voting as a fundamental issue, and that released a lot of energy. We may see a similar thing soon with children, inner-city children, and their development.''

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