thumbnail of American Experience; 1964; Interview with Bob Moses, Civil Rights Activist, part 2 of 2
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But the goal was to do what? To get enough signatures and show up at Atlantic City, what was the sort of dream scenario? How is it going to work? And what were you going to show America that there were all of these people in Mississippi? Right. Right. So, you know, a national democratic political convention is a huge theater, right? It's theater, right, that's going on. And so, and it's also protected space. That is, you know, by organized a meeting in the middle of Freedom Summer, right? He had Martin Luther King come down in Alabama, Andy Young, and the SNCC leadership, right? And so his question to us was, were we going to recruit the radicals and the nationalists
from Philadelphia, right, to do nonviolent disruption, right? Of the convention. Of the convention. Right, because if we were, if that was part of a possible strategy, then King should not be involved, right, because he needed to remain above that. So we assured by it that we had no idea about doing anything like that, but we didn't rule out the idea that the delegates themselves, if they decided they wanted to do some direct action, that they would do it, right? So this is, the idea is, you know, this is big political theater and you have a chance to put your case before the country, right?
So really our secret weapon was Mrs. Hamer, right? Did you know it at the time? Yes. But we knew her ability to ignite passion and response, right? And in part, it was because she was too old to actually be affected by pomp and circumstance, right? It was what she had evolved into, was too deep into her bones, right? And so we knew that she would be able to actually light up the country, right? She wasn't in awe of these people. Yes, that's, it was, what it was that she had experienced had transpired over her whole life, right?
And she, the students and the movement had woke her up, right? And there was no going back to sleep, right? And so, and we had been encouraging her at every point, right? Because she would ask us, you know, sort of, is it okay, you know? And not talking about, at the convention, but I'm talking about, in Mississippi, right? As she's speaking out, right? Because this is the other thing, she was a woman speaking out in a culture that didn't have, you know, women leaders, right? And so we were encouraging her at every turn, right? And this is part of also what Ella had taught us, right? Because Ella taught us, and she taught us the way she did it, right? But she was that, okay, there's a sit-in movement, and there are all these sit-in leaders.
And she insisted that they have their own voice, and that was what Snick was, right? But Ella was the person that made sure that the student sit-in movement had a student voice, right? And she taught us about the idea of looking for the leadership in the people that you're working with, right? And not commandeering the leadership space yourself, right? And so that had actually happened in Mississippi. There was a space there that Fannie Lou Hamer could walk into that hadn't been taken over by anybody, right? And so all these things came together at the National Convention. And who do you have to appear in front of? So there's the credentials committee, but, you know, and this is the other thing. So King was a leader of the movement, but he couldn't be a member of the delegation,
right? Right? So there was a part of the work of the movement, which was the organizing of the people who could actually make such a demand on the country, right? And from Mississippi, they had to be, from Mississippi, they had to be authentically from Mississippi, right? Because it was that authenticity that couldn't be denied, right? And what you were trying to show was that these people, given the chance, wanted to participate? The demand, right? We were working the demand side. In other words, how do you get the people who have the problem to demand the solution to the problem, right? Because part of the argument, every reporter was coming up to me, oh, Bob, aren't your people apathetic? Isn't that why they don't do this or that, right? And so that argument, you know, dissipates.
It disappears in the presence of the people demanding their rights, right? And so this showcase of the political theater of the convention was, you know, the perfect opportunity to put this on. And we had the perfect person, you know. What happened? Yeah. So what happened was, and I, myself, I'm learning, you know, and we all are called, I'm really steep learning curve, because people change hats, you know, people you're working with and then they get up there and they put on their national party hat, right? And even King, he put on his national hat as the leader, right? Because he tells the delegation, well, if I were in your shoes, I probably would vote as you have voted, but in the shoes that I wear, right? I have to support the idea of the national party and not disrupting it, right?
Yes. Well, the compromise is about how do you keep the national party structure together, right? You don't, the people who want to keep it together don't want to push these guys out and push somebody else in. Tell me what's at stake. I mean, just before we talk about Fannie Lou Hamers' moment in front of the TV cameras, is Dundee Johnson have a valid nightmare scenario? This convention is the establishment's fear of the MFDP warranted, justified in any way? Well, I think for Johnson, as I understand it now, is that he really wanted the convention to be his convention, right? Not Kennedy's convention, right? And certainly not the MFDP convention, but the MFDP actually captured the media's attention, right?
That was, it became the story of the convention, right? And so apparently that really upset Johnson, you know, I'm not party to all of that, but apparently. What was he afraid would happen, though? Well, I guess what I suppose the biggest fear is that it hits the floor. There's got to be a role called vote, and Kennedy decides he's going to, you know, become the champion of the Freedom Democratic Party, right? Or Humphrey. Well, if that happens, then he loses the Southern delegations, right? They will move out, right, and the party is, I don't know, it's split. For an instinctual politician of the sort of genius that Dundee Johnson was, that must
have been, I mean, I think the paranoia about Bobby Kennedy is a whole nother, a Freudian, weird Shakespearean thing. Right. But the fear of the party breaking apart or seeming to be divided must have been. Yeah, so the issue of the party structure, I mean, it happens a century ago, 1875, right? And the election of 1876, I mean, this is an aside, but Grant is visited by the Republican delegation from Ohio in 1875. Ohio has not ratified the 15th Amendment, and Hayes is running for governor, and they are saying to Grant, if you send troops to Mississippi, Hayes won't be governor.
So Grant later says, well, I acted like the head of the Republican Party, not the president of the United States, right? So that sets up the scenario in 76, all right, with Hayes and Tilden, right? And the deal is struck, Hayes becomes president, the troops get out of the South, and the Democrats become a one party southern political machine, right? And so we're dealing here with this, the history of the country, right, which is now brought to a crisis, right? And you know, looking back on it, it was the right party at the right time, right? This was their problem, right? They had been created around this problem, right?
And so it couldn't get resolved, right? So what happens when Fannie Lehamer walks up and sits down in front of Johnson Panics, right? So Mrs. Hayma just tells her story, right? That's what Mrs. Hayma does, right? She tells her story, and she questions America, right? I was in back of the cameras, so you know, they had the cameras out here, and I'm on the other side behind the stands, right? So I don't see her face, I see the back of her, right? Did you need to see your face? No, no, I'm a really tickled pink, you know, right? So, but I didn't know that Johnson had gone on TV so that the country couldn't hear her, right, at that time.
But of course, they picked her up in the evening broadcast, right, and the damage had been done. Because, in fact, it doesn't mean that the car's on it, right, yeah, yeah. Why was she so powerful that moment? I think because in some sense, the whole history of the struggle in Mississippi is encapsulated in Mrs. Hayma, right? And in her body and her spirit, right? And she is willing to let it loose, right? And but she's not a victim, right? So she's powerful because she's now really part of the solution, right? And she's asking the country to join her, right?
And have a different outcome for what has happened, right? So because Mrs. Hayma is operating from a spiritual wellspring, right? And the spiritual wellspring, she never loses it, even when the movement disintegrates around her, right? So she never loses that spiritual wellspring. And that spiritual wellspring is about what's possible that's good, right? And she's offering that to the country. And her story is emblematic in so many levels, I mean, she's brutally attacked, but police are part of it, right? Yeah, so the Winona, you know, the SCLC operated a citizenship program as part of the Kofo operation, right?
And Anel Ponda was leading that in Greenwood. And King sent Anel over so that because we had a context within which he could safely operate, right? And so out of that context, she would recruit people, take them over to South Carolina for the citizenship program. So coming back, Fannie Lou Hayma, Yovesta Simpson, and June Johnson, right, we're coming back from one of those retreats there. And when they hit Winona, in different ways decided that they would get to the bus station and they were attacked and brutally beaten, yeah. After Hayma spoke, how do you feel about your chances in Atlantic City?
Well, so that was the problem. We never really knew what was going on, right? I was trying to shadow King, I didn't get any information there. There were meetings we had, I think we had one meeting with Humphrey. He was trying to convince us, you know, that we should not insist on being seated, right? And so we had people going out to the delegations and so forth, so, but we don't know the ropes, right? We have no idea, you know, what this National Democratic Party structure is and how it operates and who the key people are. And there was one point where the whole National Civil Rights leadership was called in. Remember Wilkins, he told me he said, you know, I'm not going to be Johnson's running boy,
I'm going home. So he came down for that meeting, but then he left, he didn't, he didn't stay to participate. So he kind of knew what was going to go down and didn't want any part of it, didn't want to be tarred by it? Well, I think he understood and appreciated what the MFDP was doing, but he wasn't going to be the running boy for Johnson who wanted this leadership to convince us, right, that we should follow what the party structure wanted. And at the same time, you guys weren't considered kind of the most radical, I mean, you, the mainstream civil rights organizations weren't sure that they wanted you all doing what you were doing? Yeah, well, that was from the get-go, the idea that the students should go into the Mississippi, the black belt, the toughest places was not well received, right? The other strategy was loosen up those places by working around them in the mid-south,
right, and then working your way in. So, so from the get-go, Snicks idea was not really well received, right? And in the end, how does the compromise that's proposed come to a head? And do you remember the most, sort of vividly the most? Well, we're called to a meeting, actually Ed King and Mrs. Hamer, Aaron Henry, are called Ed, and they, at least Ed and Mrs. Hayman, cis that I come. And at the meeting of Huberham Freebide, Russ and Walter Ruther. And Walter Ruther was? So Walter Ruther is, I guess, Johnson's outreach into the whole labor movement of the country, right? United auto workers, right?
And the person who is kind of Johnson's envoy, I don't have his name, he looks to me like he's late thirties, right, who is at all the meetings, not Joe Rao. Not Joe Rao, Joe Rao, yes. This is someone from the White House, right, but I don't know his name, right? So there we have a discussion we are told that what has had happened, right, that there will be two seats that Aaron Henry and Ed King will be the recipients of these two seats and that the deal is done, right? And so this exchange is back and forth at this meeting between Humphrey, Ruther, Baird, and King is at the meeting, right? Wasn't one of the people that they wanted to be a delegate, Mrs. Hamer? No.
No. No, I mean, not the White House, do you guys want it? Well, no. We wanted, yeah, no, I mean, our position, when you say you guys, at this point, the question is, well, what is the delegation's role in deciding, which is quite separate from what Snick might want, right? I mean, I think what I was really concerned with there was that we turned this theater into a classroom, right, that this was a place for the people that we had been working with and for to actually figure out something about politics and their role in it. And so all the time while we were there, there was no like executive committee of the delegation that dealt with the important people, right? The delegation met as a whole to learn what was going on and to figure out how they wanted to respond to it, right?
And so this was part of how the movement actually was built, this idea that if we're going to do anything down there, then somehow the energy of the people has to be hit, right? It has to be corralled. They have to figure out how they are going to energize themselves. And it turned out that the meeting was the most important tool for doing that. So how those meetings happened at the convention were really important. But somebody proposes Hamer and Johnson as a quote about it. I'm not, there's no way I'm going to allow that illiterate woman to be a delegate. Do you remember Hamer and Johnson and Humphrey having a conversation? At the meeting at Humphrey, there was a meeting with Humphrey, in other words, there was a
meeting before this that had a lot of the Democratic Party operatives. And I think sort of Humphrey was the person who was called the meeting and sort of at the center. And I had an exchange there, and I think Mrs. Hamer was asking, kind of chiding him that this was an issue that was really greater than who should be Vice President, right? Was it ironic that it was Hubert Humphrey of all people as the point man for the Democratic for the White House at this point? In the sense that he, I think Humphrey felt that his credentials were unapproachable in terms of his previous struggles within the party structure around the questions of race and representation.
But the ground had shifted, I mean, the sit-in movement really shifted all that territory, right? Because it brought in the people who had the problem into the picture, right? So it was no longer just a discussion between powerful people about them, right? It's now a discussion with them, right? And they have their own views, right? And so the ground had shifted under him. And that's exactly who Mrs. Hamer was? Yes, right. Mrs. Hamer represented that forcefully. And part of it, she had no pretentions about herself becoming part of that structure, right? And so that was not part of what could be negotiated, you know? Were you betrayed in Atlantic City? So I'm going to go down. How it went down? Well, people felt betrayed, I'm not sure that we were betrayed.
What I think is that the actors, you know, carried out their roles. And we got a clearer understanding of what all the different roles were, right? So I think that's what, and Johnson, of course, was at the center of making sure that the outcome he wanted happened, right, and he had the power to do that. How did the delegation take it? So the delegation split. And it split along class lines, even though the middle class, it was no. I don't think there was an upper black class in Mississippi. And even as thin as the middle class was in Mississippi, because basically you're talking several thousand teachers, right?
And you can count the doctors on one hand, three lawyers, right? None of whom have passed the bar in Mississippi, right? So really thin middle class. But the NACP is kind of, you know, the leading force in the delegation of that middle class. And I think though the split happened along those lines, right? So in the sense that some people, I think, saw themselves, saw this as an opening into the party structure. And some people, like Aaron Henry, successfully moved into the party structure, right? But I think the force of the delegation was carried. And this was the work again that happened early, right? The work that the Howard students did in the Delta.
So we had delegates there who really were representing the viewpoint of the ordinary person, right? And do you remember the room when the delegates were told that they weren't going to get seated in the time to go home? Yes, and the question, well, what happened was we talked with them about having a sit-in, right? And so before we had the big meeting with all of the White House civil rights leaders, the senators, and the whole delegation, right? Because this is on, I think it's on Monday, I forgot. But whatever day, right, we, we having this meeting where we're told what we're getting, the day the convention opens, right?
And so when we go back and tell the delegation, we discuss having a sit-in, having a response to it, right? And so there's an agreement, and I start to hunt for a delegate ticket. So there are black delegates from the Midwest, right? I think some Colorado, right? There are few delegates, and they loan me their passes, and we find a side door, right? And so we start sneaking delegates in, right, through the side door, until we get enough in to, and they sit in in the Mississippi delegation seats, right? And then, of course, so this is theater, right? This is great theater. It's a great sit-in. A lot of the Mississippi delegates had left already, right?
Yes, the seats, there weren't a lot of people in those seats, right? But there were a few, but there were a bunch of seats there under the Mississippi banner, right? And, of course, we are now accused of switching from politics to protest, right? I just thought it was a wonderful sitting, because they were protected, in a sense, right? Because no one is going to really manhandle them on the floor of the National Convention with all the TV cameras watching, right? So we had the sit-in, and then, of course, the next day, we had the big meeting, right? With all the leadership and the delegation, and the delegation, and again, what was important was that the whole delegation heard everybody, right, not a small executive committee, and then they met by themselves, and decided that they would reject the offer, right?
Let's touch up, okay. Okay. What was there a moment when you felt personally like you'd been had that somehow, that Humphrey pulled a fast one on you? Isn't there some moment when you- Yeah, no, we had been had in the sense that we weren't consulted at all in this deal, right? How did that work? The delegation wasn't consulted. You've done big delegation. All these people, there's no real one person in charge, as you said, but there's people representing the delegation, right? And you're negotiating with the delegation. Well, I'm not really sure, my sense is that probably Aaron Henry was in close connection with King, right? Yeah. Yeah.
But, and that probably Aaron knew as much as anybody through King, right, what was going down, right? So, but the delegation itself was getting reports from Rao, I think, but and the question was, were we going to have enough votes to put it to the floor, right? Courtland made the mistake of handing, I think it's Diggs, who was the congressman from Michigan, and Diggs wanted to know which representatives of the credentials committee had voted which way. Courtland had the list and handed it over to Diggs, right? And of course, he handed it over to Johnson and his people, and then they got the screws
out. So, just raw politics of the Johnson variety. Right. Yeah. So, and we're novices, right, you know, so, I mean, we're kind of, we have people doing this and that, but it's a, it's a new game for us, you know. After it was rejected, how did the delegation feel and what did they do? So we went back, we went back to having our little side show entrance, right, and bringing the delegates on, they had taken the Mississippi chairs off the floor and they had a circle of FBI agents, right, circling, protecting that space, right? And so, we went in and while Johnson was talking, we kind of had a circle and just stood there
in protest. Again, they didn't bother, it's a wonder, they didn't close that loophole, right, that door where we could go and come with our little passes. And then what happened? Well, I think what really happened is that in this process, stokely and the Howard delegation made a decision about what they might, what they were going to do next, right? And so what happened after this was the, on the one hand, the MFDP was sort of on its own, trying to figure out what its next strategies would be.
And Lawrence Gia, who was the chair, became sort of the dominant force because Aaron Henry and the group that agreed to go along with the compromise, then began to work with the national party structure. They got together with Harding Carter, Jr., right, and eventually set up what became a, well, a sanitized version of the Democratic Party in Mississippi, which had some of you of your whites, liberals, who were ready to make such a stand, plus people that Aaron Henry brought together and eventually in 1968, MFDP actually joined them at the 1968 convention in Chicago.
What happened emotionally to the sharecroppers and the hairdressers and the people that you worked with in Atlantic City? How did they feel for what happened to you? Yeah, so I think they felt two things. I think they felt like they had been betrayed, but I think they also felt like they had gotten a feet wet, right, that they had actually experienced, right, the party, the part of the politics that was inaccessible, right, for them. And so they went back and if you look at what actually happened in Mississippi in various different ways on their own and with different volunteers who stayed on with different members
of the SNCC group that broke up at State in Mississippi began the work of trying to figure out how to enter into Mississippi and civil society, right. How did Mrs. Hamer take it? So she went back, I think what happened with Mrs. Hamer, well part, there was a resurgence which involved Mrs. Hamer, Annie Devine and Victoria Gray, around challenging the congressional representation to Mississippi. So that happened the following year and that sort of gave the appearance that there was real vitality there.
But the problem with that was you couldn't do both things, you couldn't organize all of the energy that was needed for a challenge to Mississippi's congressional representation and build your base at the center. And so the base wasn't built. How did Bob Moses feel at the end of after Atlantic City near the end of 1964? So I felt like it would take 50 years for people to figure out that the Democratic Party was not really the party that they needed to work with. So I was wrong about that. But I mean I felt that what had happened there would take a half a century so for people to actually digest it and understand what the ramifications were.
How did you feel personally? So I did feel like well we're going to get the right to vote. I felt like they're not going to let this happen again four years later. So something is going to, they're going to do something. People are going to do something. And the people involved, of course, the people, not just the national party structure but the civil rights leadership king and the other people, they're not going to just sit by and wait another four years and have this happen all across the South. There's going to be some movement. So I felt like we were actually going to get some movement around the right to vote. And of course there was movement that shortly after that Johnson is thinking about this
and it ships from the courts where it had been housed to the president, King and the Congress. Did you feel like you were done in terms of the movement? I was done in terms of what I had promised Amsy. In other words, I went to Mississippi under a promise to Amsy. He asked, he put out the proposition and I said, I'm going to come and work on this. And so the proposition that was freedom zone. The proposition that was the right to vote. In other words, Amsy was the one that said, well the students need to come in here and this is what they need to work on.
And what I hadn't understood at that time was that the key was in the national party structure. And that was going to turn the lock to unlock Mississippi's. So it was clear that Mississippi was going to change after that. They weren't going to let this happen again. But it wasn't clear to me at all what my involvement would be going forward in such a change. And so from that point of view, that piece of the work was over. And what we had, when a year from then, as I looked around the state, Amsy was busy running head start programs, he had 100 local people running a head start program in Cleveland.
The Selma March had happened. We were going to get the right to vote. So that piece of the work was over. The question of what came next was us. From my point of view, sort of it was SNCC that had the energy. And so SNCC needed to figure out. But SNCC wasn't able to actually do that. What happened in the wake, what happened to SNCC in the near the end of 64, in the wake of what had happened in this year? So part of what happened, I mean just big picture. Big picture is that it couldn't absorb all of those volunteers, many of whom now wanted to be SNCC field secretaries.
But it also couldn't figure out a way to grow itself. So the way that it chose to grow itself, which was to kind of restructure itself, from being a kind of loose network of people in pockets who really were working under their own authority, to try to structure an authority from an executive level. And to kind of sort of reign in the activities, it's hard to do because you didn't have money and the work was still dangerous, right? So...
Stokely and the black power movement, so-called, did that hasten the problems that SNCC had, adapting and growing from that point onward? No, that came after they had settled on a strategy for that. In other words, Jim Foreman really was orchestrating a restructuring of SNCC. And that had happened when Stokely really ousted John Lewis as a cheer person, right? And then... Well, 66. Yeah, 66, so there's a kind of a, yeah, right? Was there a silver lining to the deal, the compromise, or there was forced on you in Atlantic City?
Wasn't there a rule about future delegations? Yeah, I mean, I think that was the point that they weren't going to let this happen again. And what went? In the sense that somehow the National Party structure was going to come to grips with representation from the South, right, that the days of lily, you know, the editorials in the Herald Tribune and the New York Times, right, really later, you know, the days of lily white representation from the South are over, right, those days are over, right? So the question of how it would, you know, transform itself, what, how it would actually happen, right? And that's, that part of politics really is not something I was interested in, right? I was always really interested in, well, how do we work with the people at the bottom and how do we get them to move?
So after they move and people offer things, then everything changes. But then that's their problem, right? How they respond to what's offered, right? And it's a very different level of work, right? We handed that work over to MFDP, right, and the people in MFDP, but it was their work. We probably, what our problem was that there was no, no infrastructure of educating people about that work, right? We didn't have the resources. So was it time for you to move on? Yeah. Because of that? Yeah, it was time for me to move on. And I actually left Mississippi, right? Was that hard for you to do? No. It actually wasn't, yeah, it actually wasn't. I felt like I had done my piece of the work.
It was hard to see that, I mean, the split. In other words, the Howard Group left and went to Alabama. It would have been better if they had stayed and, from my point of view, and developed the MFDP in Mississippi and sent MFDP people to Alabama, right? So that's a huge difference, right, between the organizers moving and the people working with the people until they're ready to move, right? But that was not, I was out of the picture, right? You went to a Freedom School Convention in Maryland?
Meridian. Meridian, of course. Yeah. Meridian. What was that? How'd that make you? Right. That's late in 64, right? And you know those, the members of that convention are still in touch with each other, and they are actually planning a kind of reunion, right, around the 50th, right, and they come back. So what was the reunion? So the reunion, what was the, oh, the Freedom School Convention, right? So these are young people who have participated in the Freedom Schools across the summer of 64, right? And they're coming together to have a voice, right? And so they actually do begin to speak their opinions about things, including the
sense about the Vietnam War, some of them, right? So it's, I don't know that it, if Snick had managed to figure itself out, then it might have managed to actually nurture that, and this whole movement of young people, which was coming out of Freedom Schools as a kind of next generation involved in this struggle, that didn't happen. They went in their own way, they went in. What did it feel like for you, though, as a primary architect in this Freedom Summer to look at these kids? Right.
Yeah, so, um, this is, I forgot exactly when that convention happened, and do you know if it happened before we went to Atlantic City, probably after going to Atlantic City, yeah. And so, then I think what it felt like was, I'm not really into this, at this point, so, yeah, because I don't have any real memories, right? Just didn't, didn't have a clear background, right? I think it's overshadowed by what had happened.
Yeah, um, did you have a, were there other reverberations from what happened in Freedom Summer that spread out across the country, someone like Mario Savio? Yeah, no. Um, there's that book, I forgot the name of it, um, the sociologist, um, who had a brilliant idea, which was the no-shows, right? So he, he covered, he recovered all of the applicants that had been accepted as volunteers, and then followed those who showed up, and those who didn't show up, and then asked, well, can we see any impact here of the summer on the lives of this whole configuration of people
since presumably those who were accepted all shared a certain kind of, certain features, right? And so, um, what he found was that it had a profound impact, um, and there's a very different trajectory of the people who showed, and the people who were accepted, and for whatever reason, didn't show, right? In terms of their involvement, social justice, activism, and the movement, I mean, it just spread into all different kinds of crevices of the country. Some dramatic, like, um, free speech in Mario Savio, who really, you know, it contributed to his already consciousness, right? But I think part of what it did for someone like Mario was, um, really, um, equipped him
to stand up to police and authority, right? Looking back on that year, um, now that we've met a couple hours talking about it, does it feel like it was, in some ways, a watershed moment? Oh, yeah, for me, and for the country, I think, right, that, um, and not really well understood, and not something that the country could really, um, come to grips with, none of the civil rights organizations really had a way of, um, dealing with 800 students that came, um, Alonstein had broken with it, so, um, they didn't become, you know, their own thing under
his leadership, um, and no one was, they couldn't become part of anyone's network or organization, so they just kind of dissipated, right, into the general society and disappeared in some sense, right? People talk about, you know, Mickey and, uh, James and Andy, um, but not about the whole group, they're not celebrated as such, they weren't able to be celebrated by the country, right? Um, so it's, it's something that's, uh, underneath the radar screen in some sense, right? Um, and they couldn't really, I mean, the freedom summer couldn't really be embraced by any of the national organizations, SNCC couldn't embrace it as it moved into its black power
phase, right? Um, or even before it moved, right, into its black power phase, right? It couldn't really embrace it, right? Um, so it, but it was, um, what could, um, why couldn't it embrace it? Well because it was ambivalent about, um, the actual formation of this large group of white volunteers who wanted to be part of SNCC, right? It couldn't, couldn't absorb them, right? It couldn't really just reject them, right? Couldn't channel their energies. It couldn't figure out, right? Right. It didn't think that its job was to, uh, pull them together and ask them to figure out themselves, but it, so, you know, there was no pulling together of that group and saying, okay, you
did this, you know, let's reflect what do you want to do, right? What does it mean? Right? They're just, everything just sort of into the sand, right? Yeah. Did that really be feeling deflated? Um, so what left me feeling, um, deflated was, as everything was breaking apart, um, my former, uh, inclinations were having, uh, serious consequences around the draft, right? So when I turned 18, I was, uh, in the middle of my freshman year at Hamilton and the country had a draft and I had come to some decisions and wrote the draft board that I didn't want to fight in the, what I call the country's up-and-coming wars, right?
So I retained, um, student deferments and then when Sputnik happened, they extended deferments to teachers of math. So when I left school and was teaching at Horseman, I was still deferred, right? As soon as I went to Mississippi, they called me up there at a hearing. They said, no way, um, and I was classified 1A. And then, um, Tom Hayden came through, I had actually left Mississippi. I was in Birmingham, um, in the spring of 1965 and Tom came through saying that SDS was going to organize a march on Washington about the war and asked if I would speak because he knew about this, uh, conscientious, uh, this objection, right? So I spoke and then, uh, Stanton Lynn, who had headed up the freedom schools, came to me afterwards and said, well, Johnson is going to escalate.
The students are going to be away from school. We need to organize something this summer. So that was the summer of 1965, Stanton Lynn, Dave Dillon, Jim, myself, organized the Congress of unrepresented people, right? And so we held a big meeting in DC. We busped up, AJ Musty gave us some money to bus up, uh, chaircroppers from Mississippi. And that was the next, the next phase. Yeah. Right. So, um, I take a long view about the history of the country. What I think has happened and is happening is that every three quarters of a century, uh,
the country expands the reach of its class of we, the people. So the preamble says we, the people, organize, right, uh, and ordain in this constitution, right? And one way of thinking about the country is that it lurches forwards in units of time, which are roughly three quarters of a century. So we start out for our first three quarters with a stark constitutional division between constitutional people and constitutional property, right? The constitutional people wage, internet scene war, right? And we get rid of the concept of constitutional property, right? And we enter into a period of slavery by another name, Jim Crow, right? For roughly three quarters of a century, right?
And what up ends that is the movement in the sixties, right? And 64 is a watershed in that movement, right? And so now the country expands, right? This concept of who the constitutional people are, right? And it expands it along different dimensions. One is public accommodations, the other is who has access to the political arena, and the third is the actual national party structure, the democratic party, right? So in that sense, it's the culmination of a unit of constitutional history for me, right? Three quarters of a century unit, right? Which in Amze's words, we have second class citizens, we want to be first class citizens. That was how he articulated what the situation was, right?
That we got into after, you know, the big war, right, the Civil War, right? So that's how I think about it. I think with the 50th, we are two thirds of the way into our third constitutional unit of time, right? And why do you think we should care about, I think, six and a half? So we should care about our democracy, that's an issue. We should care about the concept of who the constitutional people are in this country. I mean, if you think about what binds us together, right? We're even going to be a constitutional people, or we're not going to be anything, right? We've got to figure out how the idea of who are the constitutional people and what does it mean to be a constitutional person in this country?
In that sense, yes, everyone has the ethnicity and their race and their religion, but what really binds the country together, what offers the hope if you're just thinking long range, right? In the next 100,000 years, what's going to bind this country together, right? Well, if it isn't bound together by the concept of enlarging and deepening the idea of the substance of constitutional personhood, it's not going to happen, it's not going to work, right? And so, it wasn't just something about race. Other croppers, freedom riders, right, MFDP people, they weren't thinking about race. They were thinking about, I'm a part of this country. It means something. I'm a citizen of this country. It means something to be a citizen, right? I have a direct relationship to the federal government.
I want that relationship. I want the federal government to protect and say what it means for me to be a part and a citizen of the country, right? And so, that is an enduring issue in this country. Last question. Is there a legacy that you can see around you today from that year? Actually, for me, the alder project is the legacy of the SNCC operation and Mrs. Hippy. For me, the alder project raises the question of the constitutional personhood of young people. So we have extended constitutional personhood to various classes of adults. We have yet to do it to the young people in the country. And so, the issue of this sort of humdrum idea of math literacy in algebra is on the table. It's on the table because the information age puts it on the table.
And so, it's available as an organizing tool. But underneath, it raises the same questions we were raising for sharecroppers, for the youth. Right? They are not going to make it if they don't have the literacies that are needed for the 21st century. And so, the question is, what's their constitutional standing? And right now, they have none, right? And their voice needs to be heard, and they need to demand, I think, their constitutional rights. And they need to have the education they need to actually access the 21st century. But we need to get 30 seconds of silence for Bob Moses starting now. And Rupta, thank you very much for your time.
And Rupta, thank you very much.
American Experience
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Interview with Bob Moses, Civil Rights Activist, part 2 of 2
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WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
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It was the year of the Beatles and the Civil Rights Act; of the Gulf of Tonkin and Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign; the year that cities across the country erupted in violence and Americans tried to make sense of the Kennedy assassination. Based on The Last Innocent Year: America in 1964 by award-winning journalist Jon Margolis, this film follows some of the most prominent figures of the time -- Lyndon B. Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Barry Goldwater, Betty Friedan -- and brings out from the shadows the actions of ordinary Americans whose frustrations, ambitions and anxieties began to turn the country onto a new and different course.
Social Issues
Politics and Government
American history, African Americans, civil rights, politics, Vietnam War, 1960s, counterculture
(c) 2014-2017 WGBH Educational Foundation
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Identifier: NSF_MOSES_005_merged_02_SALES_ASP_h264 Amex 1920x1080 .mp4 (unknown)
Duration: 1:06:05
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Chicago: “American Experience; 1964; Interview with Bob Moses, Civil Rights Activist, part 2 of 2,” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 26, 2024,
MLA: “American Experience; 1964; Interview with Bob Moses, Civil Rights Activist, part 2 of 2.” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 26, 2024. <>.
APA: American Experience; 1964; Interview with Bob Moses, Civil Rights Activist, part 2 of 2. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from