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Robert Moses, civil rights activist and education advocate, has died at 86

Robert Parris Moses, a civil rights activist who endured beatings and jail while leading Black voter registration drives in the South during the 1960s and later helped improve minority education in math, has died. He was 86.

Ben Moynihan, the director of operations for the Algebra Project, said he had talked with Moses’ wife, Dr. Janet Moses, who said her husband died Sunday morning in Hollywood, Florida. Information was not given about the cause of death.

Reactions to Moses’ death poured in across social media from admirers, educators and activists.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Center called Moses a “leader,” among other accolades.

#BobMoses has died. What a brilliant, conscious, compassionately active human being. Educator. Organizer. Leader. Rest well, sir,” the center tweeted.

José Vilson, an activist, educator and author, tweeted that he was thankful for Moses’ contributions and shared a picture of the two together.

“I was fortunate to give Robert ‘Bob’ Moses his flowers while he could still smell them. When I read ‘Radical Equations,’ I felt a pathway open up in my math pedagogy that I hadn’t seen before. Thankful for the work this giant put on this Earth as he now joins the ancestors. RIP,” he wrote.

Cornel West, the scholar and progressive activist, said “words fall short” of describing Moses.

“My dearest brother Bob Moses – spiritual genius, intellectual giant and moral titan – has left us! Words fall short! He was larger than life and one of the great exemplars of our humanity! Let us never forget him!” he tweeted.

Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, wrote that Moses was a “giant.”

“Throughout his life, Bob Moses bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice. He was a strategist at the core of the voting rights movement and beyond,” he tweeted. “He was a giant. May his light continue to guide us as we face another wave of Jim Crow laws. Rest in Power, Bob.”

Director and activist Ava DuVernay shared a quotation from the activist Tom Hayden after the news of Moses’ death.

“‘When people asked what to do, he asked them what they thought. At meetings, he usually sat in the back and spoke last. He slept on floors, wore overalls, shared the risks, took the blows, he dug in deeply.’ – Tom Hayden on Bob Moses, who has journeyed home and who loved us so,” she wrote.

Nate Powell, a graphic novelist who included Moses in his book about the life of John Lewis, “March,” shared an image of Moses he had drawn as part of the series.

“Rest In Peace to Bob Moses, a powerhouse of compassion and action. He was the person I most enjoyed learning about while drawing March, and I’ve kept his example in my heart since,” he wrote.

The official account for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called Moses “one of the greatest crusaders for civil rights.”

“Today, we mourn the loss of one of the greatest crusaders for civil rights, access to education, and the pursuit of justice. Bob Moses will always be remembered as one of the most courageous leaders in American history. Rest in Power,” a tweet from the account read.

Moses worked to dismantle segregation as the Mississippi field director of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, during the civil rights movement and was central to the 1964 “Freedom Summer,” in which hundreds of students went to the South to register voters.

Moses started his “second chapter in civil rights work” in 1982 by founding the Algebra Project thanks to a MacArthur Fellowship. The project included a curriculum Moses developed to help poor students succeed in math.

Moses was born in Harlem, New York, on Jan. 23, 1935, two months after three people were killed and 60 others were injured in a race riot in the neighborhood. His grandfather William Henry Moses had been a prominent Southern Baptist preacher and a supporter of Marcus Garvey, a Black nationalist leader at the turn of the century.

Like many other Black families, the Moses family moved north from the South during the Great Migration. Once they were in Harlem, his family sold milk from a Black-owned cooperative to help supplement the household income, according to “Robert Parris Moses: A Life in Civil Rights and Leadership at the Grassroots,” by Laura Visser-Maessen.

While he was attending Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, he became a Rhodes Scholar and was deeply influenced by the work of the French philosopher Albert Camus and his ideas about rationality and moral purity for social change. Moses took part in a Quaker-sponsored trip to Europe and solidified his beliefs that change came from the bottom up before he received a master’s degree in philosophy at Harvard University.

Moses didn’t spend much time in the Deep South until he went on a recruiting trip in 1960 to “see the movement for myself.” He sought out Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta but found little activity in the office and soon turned his attention to SNCC.

“I was taught about the denial of the right to vote behind the Iron Curtain in Europe,” Moses said later. “I never knew that there was denial of the right to vote behind a Cotton Curtain here in the United States.”

Moses tried to register Blacks to vote in Mississippi’s rural Amite County, where he was beaten and arrested. When he tried to file charges against a white assailant, an all-white jury acquitted the man, and a judge provided protection to Moses to the county line so he could leave.

He later helped organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which sought to challenge the all-white Democratic delegation from Mississippi. But President Lyndon Johnson prevented the group of rebel Democrats from voting in the convention and instead let Jim Crown Southerners remain, drawing national attention.

Disillusioned with white liberal reaction to the civil rights movement, Moses soon began taking part in demonstrations against the Vietnam War and then cut off all relationships with whites, even former SNCC members.

Moses worked as a teacher in Tanzania, returned to Harvard to earn a doctorate in philosophy and taught high school math in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Later in life, the press-shy Moses started his “second chapter in civil rights work” in 1982 by founding the Algebra Project.

The historian Taylor Branch, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Parting the Waters,” said Moses’ leadership embodied a paradox.

“Aside from having attracted the same sort of adoration among young people in the movement that Martin Luther King did in adults,” Branch said, “Moses represented a separate conception of leadership” as arising from and being carried on by “ordinary people.”

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Minnesota wildfire doubles in size, creates its own weather

A wildfire in northeastern Minnesota more than doubled in size Tuesday, growing to more than 19,000 acres, after it produced pyrocumulous clouds that generated lightning and even raindrops, fire officials said.

The Greenwood Fire’s growth, most of which happened Monday afternoon, prompted firefighters to leave McDougal Lake, about 80 miles south-southwest of Duluth, officials said. Authorities fear that structures might have been destroyed or damaged.

“We had crews embedded, and as this fire took off, it was quite an effort to communicate with forces on the ground so they could get out,” said federal fire incident spokesman Clark McCreedy.

The pullout was a success, and no injuries were reported. However, downed trees and necessary cleanup mean crews have been unable to assess damage around the lake, McCreedy said.

In addition to the firefighter pullout, 159 dwellings were evacuated Monday, according to an update from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Cabins, homes and recreational sites remain under threat, the group said.

Patrick Prochaska, a Minneapolis resident who built a cabin near McDougal Lake in 2012, told NBC affiliate KARE that he watched via security camera as flames mostly bypassed his property Monday, causing minor damage.

“I was feeling very scared,” he said. “At the same time, I could see that it was not doing anything to the house, and it was kind of reassuring.”

The fire in and north of Superior National Forest has mostly performed according to the weather, fire officials said. On Monday, with dry fuel on the ground and temperatures in the high 80s, it was an expanding inferno punctuated by strobes of lightning.

“The winds were drawn into the fire from all directions,” the incident’s fire behavior analyst, Michael Locke, said in a video update Tuesday. “It created what we call pyrocumulous clouds. And really high in the atmosphere … you’d see a thunderstorm, and in fact they went high enough to produce a few sprinkles of rain and even some lightning.”

Temperatures dipped into the mid-70s Tuesday, and the blaze mellowed. “The real story was cloud cover and cooler temperatures,” McCreedy said.

More of the same, and possibly rain, was in the forecast, giving officials hope that they might be able to close the book on an unusually active and dry fire season in Minnesota.

Experts have said climate change has set the stage for extreme weather, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.

Firefighters — 426 were assigned to the Greenwood event — have been confronted with “prolonged, severe drought,” making parts of Minnesota look like the fire-prone West this summer, McCreedy said.

The Greenwood Fire, which was detected Aug. 15, is believed to have been sparked by lightning.

So far, firefighters have scored no containment, and areas including McDougal Lake, Sand Lake and the Highway 2 corridor have been under mandatory evacuation orders. The federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was closed Saturday “due to active and increasing fire activity, extreme drought, limited resources,” the National Forest Service said in a notice.

Officials set a goal of Sept. 1 for full containment.

“We’re probably going to get more of that moderating weather for the rest of the week,” McCreedy said. “That opens the door for fire crews to make progress on the ground.”

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Hiker survives grizzly bear attack at Denali National Park

A tourist from Indiana was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska on Monday night, park officials said.

The 55-year-old tourist, whose name was not released, was hiking alone in dense fog in the Thoroughfare Pass area when a mother bear and multiple cubs charged him from nearby bushes, the National Park Service said in a statement Tuesday.

He had puncture wounds to a calf, his left ribs and his left shoulder, the agency said.

The victim used bear spray that might have cut the attack short, the park service indicated. He walked 1.5 miles to a visitor’s center where “medical personnel” vacationing at Denali treated him as a park bus driver called 911, it said.

The hiker was taken to a medical center near the park before he was transferred to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, about 120 miles away, park officials said. He was stabilized at the Fairbanks hospital, they said.

“Due to the apparent defensive nature of this attack, there are no plans to locate the bear involved,” the park service said. “Female bears with cubs are naturally defensive of their young, especially when surprised. There is no indication that this bear is unusually dangerous.”

Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. According to the National Wildlife Federation, fewer than 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48, but they thrive, comparatively, in Alaska, where they have a population of about 31,000.

The backcountry area of the attack is closed for one week as a precaution, the park service said.

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House passes John Lewis voting rights bill, sends measure to Senate for tougher fight

House Democrats on Tuesday passed a sweeping voting rights bill named after Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the late civil rights icon.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was approved 219-212. All Republicans voted against the legislation.

The bill is part of congressional Democrats’ broader campaign to strengthen voting laws at the federal level to fight restrictive voting laws passed in Republican-led states, such as Texas and Georgia. However, it faces steep opposition in the Senate, where Democrats hold a wafer-thin majority.

The House returned from its recess this week to take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a resolution for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget package, which includes funding for much of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. The procedural motion used to pass the multitrillion-dollar resolution paved the way for the House to vote on the voting rights bill, which was re-introduced last week by Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala.

The legislation would require states with recent histories of discrimination to get federal “preclearance” to change their voting laws, which directly addresses the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. The ruling gutted the preclearance system in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which civil rights advocates argue was successful in blocking proposed voting restrictions in states and localities with histories of racial discrimination.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement last week that Congress had “not only an ironclad Constitutional mandate, but a moral responsibility” to pass the bill.

Shortly before its passage, Pelosi said on the House floor that the bill would honor Lewis’ legacy.

“We should have the right to vote and shouldn’t be diminished by anyone. It is unpatriotic to undermine the ability of people who have a right to vote, who have access to the polls,” she said. “As John knew, this precious pillar of our democracy is under attack from one of the worst voter suppression campaigns since Jim Crow.”

It isn’t the first time House Democrats have tackled election law. In March, House Democrats passed the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that seeks to change campaign finance, voting and ethics laws.

The bill would expand access to the ballot box by creating automatic voter registration across the country by registering eligible voters whenever they interact with government agencies, restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expanding early voting and modernizing the country’s voting systems.

However, Senate Republicans filibustered the voting rights legislation in June, and the vote to advance an amended version of the For the People Act split along party lines 50-50, short of the 60 votes needed. All Democratic-aligned senators voted to begin debate, and Republicans unanimously voted to block the bill.

Passage of the voting measure was the final vote of the week for the House, whose members are leaving Washington and won’t return until Sept. 20.

Haley Talbot contributed.

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