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From Ella J. Baker

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Author: Baker, Ella

Date: July 20, 1960

Genre: Letter

Topic: Student movements

Voter registration


Shortly before resigning as executive director, Baker recommends that Bob Moses be sent to assist leaders of SCLC's Louisiana affiliate, the United Christian Movement.1 Moses, a high school math teacher, had come to know Baker while volunteering at SCLC's Atlanta headquarters during the summer; he had previously worked with Bayard Rustin in New York on behalf of SCLC.2 Later that summer, Moses traveled to Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama recruiting students to attend the fall SNCC conference.3

TO: Dr. Martin L. King
FROM: Ella J. Baker
RE: Mr. Robert Moses—Shreveport, La.

I talked with Dr. Simpkins in Shreveport, last night, and he indicated that special voter-registration efforts will be made during the month of August, covering the North Louisiana area.4 Simultaneously, the United Christian Movement will be helping to process complainants who might be used if a hearing by the Civil Rights Commission is re-scheduled.5 Representatives from the Commission presently, are in the area, and it appears that a hearing might be held later. In light of this, Mr. Robert Moses might be helpful, and gain some value experience, working with Rev. Blake and Dr. Simpkins.6

It is planned that students will be used in the person-to-person contacts for voter-registration in the area.

Attached hereto is a memorandum on the comparative cost of, and time involved in travelling from Atlanta to Shreveport, Louisiana, in the event you wish to consider having Mr. Moses go.7

1. Baker cited "the need for some extended rest" and upcoming cataract surgery as reasons for her 1 August resignation (Baker, Form letter to Friend, 31 July 1960). Robert Parris Moses (1935- ), born in New York City, received a B.A. (1956) from Hamilton College and an M.A. (1957) from Harvard University. While teaching math at Horace Mann School in New York City from 1958 to 1961, Moses volunteered for SCLC and other civil rights organizations. He began working full-time for SNCC in 1961, moving to southwestern Mississippi to develop voter registration and education projects, and was named co-director of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) in 1962. Moses developed the idea that germinated into the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). Following the MFDP's failure to unseat the state's all-white delegates at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, Moses left Mississippi. In 1966, he went to Canada to avoid the draft, and two years later traveled to Tanzania to teach mathematics. He returned to the United States in 1976 and founded a math literacy program, the Algebra Project, with a five-year MacArthur fellowship he was awarded in 1982.

2. Moses had been encouraged by Wyatt Walker to become involved with SCLC's New York office during a spring 1960 mass meeting in Newport News, Virginia (Moses, Interview by Clayborne Carson, 29 March 1982).

3. For more on SNCC's fall conference, see King, Outline, The Philosophy of Nonviolence, 14 October 1960, pp. 520-521 in this volume.

4. Cuthbert O. Simpkins, a Shreveport dentist, was a member of SCLC's executive board. He helped co-found the United Christian Movement in the spring of 1957 and shortly thereafter became the organization's president.

5. SCLC, the United Christian Movement, and other Louisiana-based organizations had sent seventy-eight "complaints of denial of voting rights" to the Civil Rights Commission in late 1959. A public hearing was scheduled to take place in Shreveport on 13 July 1959 but was blocked by the State of Louisiana (SCLC, The Crusader, November 1959). The Civil Rights Commission held hearings in New Orleans in September 1960 and May 1961.

6. Harry Blake became SCLC's first field secretary in March 1960.

7. Ernestine Brown, Memo to Baker, 20 July 1960.

Source: SCLCR-GAMK, Southern Christian Leadership Conference Records, 1954-1970, Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Inc., Atlanta, Ga., Box 32.

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