Netherlands American Studies Association

New Publication by Laura Visser-Maessen

Robert Parris Moses: A Life in Civil Rights and Leadership at the Grassrootsby Laura Visser-Maessen

University of North Carolina Press

Approx. 448 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 10 halftones, 1 map, appends., notes, bibl., index


ISBN  978-1-4696-2798-4

Available: May 2016

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.


“Laura Visser-Maessen has written a deeply researched, thoughtful study on one of the most compelling figures of the civil rights movement. Her account presents the most complex and accurate portrayal of Bob Moses and makes a great contribution to the literature by trying to reconcile his impact with the inherent contradictions of his leadership style.”
–Chris Myers Asch, University of the District of Columbia

“A brilliant assessment of the complexities of social movement leadership. Visser-Maessen superbly explores the story of how a leader helped to shape the civil rights movement without imposing his own will, and by encouraging grassroots activists to make their own decisions.”
–William H. Chafe, author of Hillary and Bill: The Clintons and the Politics of the Personal


More info on the UNC Press website