American Civil Rights: Robert Moses’ Citizen’s Arrest

Robert Parris Moses (right of photo),  soft-spoken leader of the SNCC (Thanks to americanradioworks.publicradio.org for the photo).

Here is another one of my favorite Bob Moses stories:

In a Mississippi town in 1964, demonstrators were picketing for their right to vote. Local authorities recognized Bob Moses as the outside agitator that had been stirring up local African-Americans in their pursuit of voting rights for years. Once they recognized Moses, they asked him to leave the area. He, of course refused. After all, it wasn’t illegal for him to be there. Instead of leaving completely, he left for only a few minutes, soon coming back with a sign supporting voting rights. He stood by himself on one side of the street.

The local sheriff,  a man by the name of John Quincy Adams, moved in to arrest Moses for disturbing the peace. Moses, in a quick reversal of both moral and legal authority, declared that he was making a citizens arrest of officer Adams for violating federal law that protected a citizen’s voting rights. This recently passed law made it illegal for states to interfere in any manner with a citizen’s attempt to exercise their right to vote. Moses cited this law and called on FBI agents, who were standing nearby, to aid him in his citizen’s arrest.

Unfortunately for Moses, the federal agents were ultimately under the command of J.Edgar Hoover and they were slow to act. Moses was hauled off to jail by the local authorities.

Visibly, Robert Moses was a mild-mannered intellectual, but through his countless exploits, he gave substance to the philosophy that action always follows principle.

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