Two icons in American civil rights history – both Hamilton College graduates – are being remembered at the College with scholarships named in their honor.
Drew Days, Class of 1963, the first African-American to head the Civil Rights Division in the U.S. Justice Department and later a U.S. solicitor general in the Clinton Administration, died November 2020.
Robert Moses, Class of 1956, was the Mississippi field director for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the founder of the 1964 Freedom Summer Project. In 1982, with funding from his MacArthur Fellowship, Moses founded the Algebra Project to promote math literacy as an essential component of a student’s education. He died in July 2021.
The funds bring to 45 the number of endowed scholarships at Hamilton with gifts totaling at least $1 million. They will further secure the College’s pledge to making a Hamilton education possible for any student who is accepted, regardless of their family’s financial situation. Contributions were received from trustees, alumni, staff, and friends of the civil rights pioneers. Hamilton is in the midst of a campaign to raise $400 million, including $120 million for student scholarship aid, its highest priority.
“Drew Days and Bob Moses will be remembered for their bravery, service, and commitment to equality, justice, and civil rights,” said Hamilton President David Wippman. “Both men are civil rights legends, and it is fitting that their names will be forever connected to these scholarships at their alma mater. The scholarships will support, in perpetuity, students who reflect the values and principles that defined the lives of these extraordinary Hamilton alumni.”
Both men received honorary degrees from Hamilton, Moses in 1991 and Days in 1994.
Drew Days graduated from Hamilton in 1963 with a major in English literature. He earned his law degree from Yale and was admitted to the bar in 1966. After working briefly at a union-side labor law firm in Chicago, he joined the Peace Corps and served for two years in Honduras with his wife, Ann Langdon. They were married for nearly 54 years.
After returning to the U.S. in 1969, Days joined the legal staff of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, working on civil rights cases, including a lawsuit that desegregated the Tampa schools he attended as a child. In 1977, he was appointed U.S. assistant attorney general for civil rights by President Jimmy Carter, serving through 1980. A member of the faculty at the Yale Law School beginning in 1981, he was named Alfred M. Rankin Professor of Law in 1991 and from 1993 to 1996 he took a leave of absence to serve in the Justice Department as U.S. solicitor general. Days joined the Hamilton Board of Trustees in 1986.
Robert Parrish Moses
Bob Moses graduated from Hamilton in 1956 with a degree in philosophy and French. He earned a master’s degree from Harvard and taught briefly at the Horace Mann School in Riverdale, N.Y. In the early 1960s, Moses went to Atlanta to work with the civil rights movement. In addition to serving as the Mississippi field director for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, he was the founder of the 1964 Freedom Summer Project, which sought to register as many Black voters in Mississippi as possible. Soft-spoken and determined, Moses endured threats, shootings, beatings, and arrest. The Algebra Project, which he established in 1982, views mathematical literacy as a modern civil rights tool. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in April 2021.
Former President Barack Obama, in his memoir A Promised Land, included Moses as one of the “young leaders of the civil rights movement” who inspired him. He said Moses’ “quiet confidence helped shape the civil rights movement, and he inspired generations of young people looking to make a difference.”
In a tribute published in the Utica Observer-Dispatch following Moses’ death, Publius Virgilius Rogers Professor of American History Maurice Isserman said “Moses repeatedly risked his life in the struggle for racial equality and human dignity in [Mississippi]. The Voting Rights Act, proposed by President Lyndon Johnson and passed by Congress [in 1965], was in significant measure Freedom Fighter Bob Moses’ achievement.”