Wednesday, November 05, 2008

More Tears. Oh My.

Among my heroes is one Bob Moses, a black Northerner who all by himself walked into Mississippi in the 1960s to register black voters. Out of context, this sounds unremarkable. In context, it was something akin to a suicide wish.

So reading this started the post-election waterworks all over again for me:

Some, like Kennedy [Peggy Wallace Kennedy, daughter of George Wallace] and an entire generation of white Southerners, risked social rejection for renouncing the bigotry of their parents. Others risked their lives while leading civil rights campaigns in the Deep South. Some almost lost their belief in the inherent goodness of America because they saw so many innocent people die.

They are people like Bob Moses, who led African-American voter registration drives in Mississippi during the early 1960s. He was a leader in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Mississippi when three civil rights workers were murdered by a group of men that included a Mississippi deputy sheriff. He also helped lead an ill-fated attempt to sit African-American delegates from Mississippi at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, which was segregated.

Moses grew so disenchanted by his experiences that he moved to Tanzania. He returned to the United States in 1976 and founded the Algebra Project, a national program that encourages African-American students to attend college by first teaching them mathematical literacy.

"We seem to be evolving..., " Moses says. "The country is trying to reach for the best part of itself."

Moses is evolving as well. Obama is the first president he's voted for in three decades, he says.

"I don't do politics, but I made sure to vote this time," says Moses, now 73 years old. "Obama is the first person I really felt moved to vote for."

Moses says he is amazed that Obama has helped lead the country through a racially transformative moment without anyone getting killed.

Pivotal events in America's racial history -- the debate over slavery, the assault on segregation -- sparked widespread violence, Moses says.

"I don't think people appreciate how delicate it is to move the society around these questions without descent into chaos or into pockets of chaos," he says.

Obama's victory also offered a rare public acknowledgement for Moses. He recently attended an Obama rally when Obama -- a keen student of the civil rights movement -- discovered he was in the audience.

"When he got on the platform, he gave me a shout out," says Moses, whose reluctance to be in the spotlight was notorious among his civil rights colleagues. "He said, 'there's someone in the audience, and he's a hero of mine.' "

Moses paused when asked how it felt.

"It was good."


Bee said...

I just got an email from my mom, and she said that she had been blubbing about similar stories all day long. Growing up in TX, my parents both saw lots of racism as children. I admire them both so much for transcending their demographic (white, over 65, Texan) and voting OBAMA!

I just can't imagine how thrilling this must be for the people who really fought and suffered to overturn racist laws and practices.


Bitty said...

Congressman John Lewis of Georgia is another civil rights era hero who's been on my mind a lot lately.

These are the heroes from my (college) history books, but they didn't have to wait to be dead for some of what they worked for to come to pass.

Good for your parents. There are many out there like them, for which I am grateful.

I heard today that the majority of white women didn't go for Obama. Guess we're just special. (I don't think that minority was all that small!)

Works for me.