Robert Parris Moses

A Life in Civil Rights and Leadership at the Grassroots

By Laura Visser-Maessen

456 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 10 halftones, 1 map, appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6650-1
    Published: May 2021
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-2798-4
    Published: May 2016
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-2799-1
    Published: February 2016

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One of the most influential leaders in the civil rights movement, Robert Parris Moses was essential in making Mississippi a central battleground state in the fight for voting rights. As a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Moses presented himself as a mere facilitator of grassroots activism rather than a charismatic figure like Martin Luther King Jr. His self-effacing demeanor and his success, especially in steering the events that led to the volatile 1964 Freedom Summer and the formation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, paradoxically gave him a reputation of nearly heroic proportions. Examining the dilemmas of a leader who worked to cultivate local leadership, historian Laura Visser-Maessen explores the intellectual underpinnings of Moses’s strategy, its achievements, and its struggles.

This new biography recasts Moses as an effective, hands-on organizer, safeguarding his ideals while leading from behind the scenes. By returning Moses to his rightful place among the foremost leaders of the movement, Visser-Maessen testifies to Moses’s revolutionary approach to grassroots leadership and the power of the individual in generating social change.

About the Author

Laura Visser-Maessen is assistant professor of American literature and culture at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands.
For more information about Laura Visser-Maessen, visit the Author Page.


“While focusing on Moses’s civil rights work, Visser-Maessen conveys that his subsequent work in education was not a departure, but a meaningful step forward. Of special value is the final section, a comprehensive critique of Moses’s treatment in civil rights historiography.”--Publishers Weekly

"An intriguing character study of one of the most profoundly impactful local organizers of the civil rights era. . . . This compelling biography will be sought after by scholars of civil rights history and local organizing."--Library Journal

“[This] carefully researched, well written, and nuanced account of Moses’s life. . . . sheds new light on a man and a movement whose lessons could not be more valuable today."--Mike Miller, Dissent Magazine

"Skillfully tracks the evolution of Moses' leadership, no matter how reluctantly he might have wielded it."--Chicago Tribune

“Exemplifies the new strain of historical inquiry that transcends simple narrative, examining the ideas and lived values of civil rights and social justice and not merely the personalities or politics of the time. Essential.”--CHOICE

“A thought-provoking study that not only illuminates Moses's activism, Mississippi freedom struggles, and SNCC history, but also invites scholars to investigate and probe further the underlying themes and issues involved in local community organizing and local civil rights struggles.”--American Historical Review