BOB MOSES, SPEECH AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY (24 APRIL 1964)
- While the efforts of Freedom Summer were opposed by many white citizens of Mississippi and the surrounding area, many leaders and organizers within the civil rights community itself were resistant, too. Why might active members of the civil rights community be hesitant to support the Freedom Summer program the way Bob Moses and his colleagues designed it?
- Overt persuasion is often a main feature in public addresses, especially in recruitment speeches like the one given by Bob Moses. Yet, Moses did not exhort his listeners with emotional language and he made no direct calls to action whatsoever. Why do you think Moses would have chosen to avoid the persuasive appeals traditionally associated with a recruitment speech?
- Many claim that Bob Moses wasn’t a very good speaker, and that his speech at Stanford University wasn’t a very good speech. On what grounds could somebody make such a claim? Do you agree or disagree? Why?
- Moses ended his speech on a very somber and sudden note. What did he mean by the phrase “resting heavy,” and what rested heavy with him?
- Moses claimed in no uncertain terms that Black Mississippi lives didn’t matter in 1964. How did he make that argument, and was it convincing?
- Bob Moses and the Council of Federated Organizations decided to use the country’s systemic racism to their advantage in the summer of 1964. What is meant by the term “systemic” racism, and how did Moses and his supporters use it to their advantage?
- What in Bob Moses’ speech was most effective in helping his audience to understand the severity of what was happening in Mississippi? Why do you think some students were persuaded to take action in the upcoming Freedom Summer?
- Bob Moses isn’t a name you might recognize as readily as Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcom X. Still, within COFO and SNCC, Moses was very highly regarded. This was not to Moses’s liking, as he disapproved of the idolization of movement leaders. Research Moses’s life with a view toward answering this question: Why did Moses dislike being recognized within his own movement and more broadly in the civil rights movement? What about his upbringing or background might account for his distaste for fame?
- The Freedom Summer of 1964 was very different from other civil rights actions at the time and afterwards. What were the tactics used in Freedom Summer that differentiated it from other projects? What situational factors in Mississippi might have invited or even necessitated the strategies Bob Moses and other organizers chose to employ?
- Freedom Summer (as the “summer project” was later known) was a major media success. In what ways did Moses frame the coming event as driven primarily by the national news media? In other words, what did white college students have to do with registering voters in Mississippi?
- Read Joseph Sinsheimer’s essay (listed on the Suggested Resources page of this unit) on the Mississippi Freedom Vote of 1963. Why did only Yale and Stanford students help with that project? And, what was the vote designed to do—for Black Mississippians—as well as the entire nation?
- Using the archives of the Stanford Daily newspaper, discuss how the successes of the Freedom Vote led to participation several months later in Freedom Summer.
- When Mickey Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney went missing on June 21, 1964 in Mississippi, it took the FBI just a few days to launch a massive investigation (called Miburn, for Mississippi Burning). They eventually solved the case, and several Klansmen who were also members of law enforcement went to jail. After watching this 60 Minutes feature from 2011 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KS6EvTIoHis), consider this question: Why did it take so much longer–47 years—for the FBI to finally investigate the murder of Louis Allen, the killing that some say inspired the Freedom Summer.
- Why did the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Council of Federated Organizations decide to organize in the Mississippi Delta? What was it about this sparsely populated agricultural area that caught organizers’ attention?
- In his speech, Bob Moses mentioned Herbert Lee, Louis Allen, Medgar Evers and other men when talking about current incidents in Mississippi. Based on your research, were there other important names that Moses left out when discussing Mississippi Civil Rights history?
- Search for articles in the Stanford Daily articles by Ilene H. Streltiz and Pell Fender. Do you detect differences in tone in the articles by these two writers? How did their arguments differ as well? Which of the two writers do you think probably had a bigger impact on students at Stanford? In other words, who do you think was more persuasive—and why?
- To this day some members of COFO and SNCC still claim that Freedom Summer eventually destroyed the Mississippi movement. Why do you think they say this? On what grounds do they make this claim?
- Using articles and editorials from the Stanford Daily Newspaper Archive, assess the student response to Bob Moses’s speech. Compare and contrast their response to Moses with their responses to other Civil Rights speakers at Stanford, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Richard Wasserstrom.
- How are Bob Moses and Freedom Summer remembered today, especially among current civil rights activists? Are there statues, signs, museums, or murals that commemorate either Moses or the Freedom Summer? If so, what messages do they convey? If not, how should Moses and the Freedom Summer be depicted and remembered?
- If available through your school library or your own PBS Passport, watch the clip from the documentary Eyes on the Prize (https://www.pbs.org/video/mississippi-is-this-america-1963-1964-0jp9f5/ ) featuring federal judge Tom Brady. On what grounds did Brady claim that no black man or woman should be allowed to vote? Keep in mind that Brady held a Yale law degree and was a prominent Mississippi jurist. Do similar arguments circulate today? Do they have any legitimate legal basis?
- Several states passed laws in 2021 that make it harder for Americans to vote. Florida and Georgia in particular passed bills, signed by their governors, that altered various aspects of their state’s voting laws. Based on your reading about these new laws, what do you think these legislatures were trying to accomplish? Are there any parallels to what voting rights activists were fighting against in the 1960s?
- What role do you think the Freedom Summer played in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and how does it relate to efforts to promote civil rights today? Are contemporary civil rights activists still fighting for some of the same things as their predecessors in the 1960s? Or has the agenda of the Civil Rights Movement changed dramatically over the past 50 years?
- The concept of Freedom Schools is still with us today. What does the curriculum of today’s Freedom School look like? What are the goals of such schools, where do these programs exist, and who do they benefit?