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Bob Moses, civil rights legend, dead at age 86

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By Rachel Trent, CNN

Civil rights legend Bob Moses died at age 86, according to a statement from NAACP President Derrick Johnson.

A cause of death was not immediately known.

Moses was born in New York City in January 1935 and grew up in Harlem, according to his biography on Stanford University’s King Encyclopedia of civil rights figures. He earned a master’s degree in philosophy from Harvard University in 1957.

In the late 1950’s he began working on the civil rights movement, joining the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and traveling with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Moses was the architect of the 1964 voter registration campaign, the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project, among several other civil rights projects.

He was a leader in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Mississippi when three civil rights workers were murdered by a group of men that included a Mississippi deputy sheriff. He also helped lead an ill-fated attempt to sit African-American delegates from Mississippi at the segregated 1964 Democratic National Convention.

Moses also campaigned against the Vietnam War, linking his opposition against the war to the civil rights struggle, according to Stanford’s King Encyclopedia. He even took a leave of absence from SNCC to avoid criticisms from fellow members who did not support his stance as his anti-war movement involvement increased.

Denied conscientious objector status, Moses moved to Canada to avoid the draft. Moses grew so disenchanted by his experiences that he moved to Tanzania in the late 1960s, where he taught mathematics. He returned to the United States in 1976 following the amnesty program created by President Jimmy Carter.

In 1982, he was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow. He used his fellowship to create the Algebra Project, a national program that encourages African-American students to attend college by first teaching them mathematical literacy.

The Algebra Project released a statement following the news of Moses’s death.

“His transition to that higher level only inspires us all to love, struggle and live with and for our people as he did, as we continue to work to realize Bob’s vision of “raising the floor of mathematics literacy” for all young people in the United States of America,” it said.

When he was 73, Moses told CNN he did not vote for a president in three decades until 2008 for President Barack Obama.

“I don’t do politics, but I made sure to vote this time,” Moses said. “Obama is the first person I really felt moved to vote for.”

Obama called Moses a hero of his, Moses recalled, recounting to an Obama rally he attended where the former President discovered he was in the audience.

“When he got on the platform, he gave me a shout out,” said Moses, whose reluctance to be in the spotlight was notorious among his civil rights colleagues. “He said, ‘there’s someone in the audience, and he’s a hero of mine.'”

“Bob Moses was a giant, a strategist at the core of the civil rights movement,” Johnson said in the statement released Sunday. “Through his life’s work, he bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice, making our world a better place. He fought for our right to vote, our most sacred right.”

“He knew that justice, freedom and democracy were not a state, but an ongoing struggle. So may his light continue to guide us as we face another wave of Jim Crow Laws. His example is more important now than ever,” the statement continued.

CNN reached out to the family for more information on his death.

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CNN’s John Blake, Dianne Gallagher and Hollie Silverman contributed to this report.

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