It was a powerful evening tonight at the Museum of African-American History with a lecture by legendary civil rights activist Bob Moses. Among the most salient parts of his talk were his emphasis on understanding American history’s three eras, from 1787 to the 1860s, from the 1860s to 1960s, and from the 1960s to present, and his argument that as a country we “lurch forwards and backwards.” Because of recent events (anti-gay legislation, the repeal of parts of the Voting Rights Act, rising inequality, lack of quality public education), America is currently “lurching backwards” in our third era, said Moses. Where will that lead us?
Other parts of his lecture I found especially moving were his frightening description of being “grease-gunned” (machine gunned) in 1963 by the KKK while driving to Greenville, Mississippi (“it kind of tattooed the side of the car”), while the driver Jimmy Travis was shot. In addition, the recent deterioration of the right to vote; and anecdotes regarding many of the iconic leaders from the civil rights movement, including James Meredith, Bayard Rustin, Ella Baker, and Medgar Evers.
Bob Moses received a MacArthur “Genius Grant” and has worked intensively on the Algebra Project, trying to improving public school math education. He argues that “sharecropper education” is alive and well in America and math literacy is a necessary and neglected skill. He asked, somewhat rhetorically, “are we mature enough as a country to talk about if we need a constitutional right to a high quality education?”
Certainly politicians in Washington DC aren’t mature enough. American will only fulfill her promise if citizens organize at the local level, as Bob Moses did in Mississippi in the 1960s, and continues to do to this day.