In the 1950s and 1960s, Ella Baker had a significant impact on the Civil Rights Movement. Many African-American organisations at the time might not have been as successful without her subtle touch.
As a black woman in her era, she faced numerous obstacles. However, Baker made use of her personal history to support the early nonviolent grassroots civil rights organization’s. She gave guidance to resistance leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and empowered each person battling for their freedoms.
How Ella Baker Demonstrated Courage And Resilience From A Young Age
Ella Baker was raised in North Carolina after being born on December 13, 1903, in Norfolk, Virginia. She had a slave for a grandma. She told young Ella tales of the abuse she received from white slave owners.
When her grandmother refused to wed the guy who had been chosen for her, she was even repeatedly spanked. She yet endured the beatings with pride and fortitude. Baker was inspired by her grandmother’s tacit defiance of the brutality of slavery to develop her own Civil Rights Movement views.
When Baker started attending Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, she pushed the administration to alter rules that she believed were unfair to students. She later graduated in 1927 as her class’s valedictorian.
The Great Depression and Community Organizing
After earning his degree, Baker relocated to New York City. She established the Young Negroes Cooperative League in 1930 with the goal of promoting the interests of black- and color-owned enterprises.
To assist promote economic stability at the start of the Great Depression, it was intended to pool the purchasing power of firms. This cooperative also opposed white-owned firms that typically attempted to undercut firms with black ownership.
Baker observed that young African Americans in particular faced difficult economic circumstances as the Great Depression grew worse. In addition to being discriminated against, they now had to deal with terrible poverty, homelessness, and unrest.
Baker viewed the financial difficulties as a motivator for reform. One of her catchphrases became, “People cannot be free until there is enough labour in this land to provide everybody a job,” when she created clubs for women in New York City.
For a few years, Baker assisted in managing the Young Negroes Cooperative League and other organisations, providing her with the experience she needed for the upcoming Civil Rights Movement. She joined the NAACP in 1940.
Rosa Parks was one of the participants in Baker’s classes in the 1940s. Parks chose a nonviolent protest stance similar to Baker. Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama on December 1, 1955, ignited the Civil Rights Movement with even greater fire.
Despite leaving her position at the NAACP in 1946, Baker never lost her enthusiasm for advancing the Civil Rights Movement. Her connections within the NAACP turned out to be a useful tool as the liberation movement gained traction.
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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ella Baker
In 1952, Baker returned to the local NAACP chapter in New York. She naturally advanced to the position of branch director, becoming the first female leader in the annals of that chapter.
Baker co-founded the organisation In Friendship in 1957 in New York City after being inspired by Parks’ demonstration in Montgomery. To support regional movements in the South, the organisation donated money.
In 1958, Baker moved to Atlanta due to her aptitude for organisation and her prominent position in the NAACP campaign in New York. She assisted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in putting the Southern Christian Leadership Conference together there. Over the course of two years, Baker organised protests, held events, and trained local chapter leaders in opposition.
Baker and King, however, frequently disagreed. King scoffed at the thought that a woman may have opinions different from his own. King’s actions, according to an early SCLC member, were simply a product of his age and environment: “Unless one was male and a member of the inner circle of the church, it could be difficult to overcome the preacher ego.”
Motivating Local Movements Throughout The South
In 1960, Baker resigned from the SCLC to support regional movements in Greensboro, North Carolina. In order to create an organisation there to support the protests, she urged King to give $800. After delivering a speech at a conference in April 1960, Baker established the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee with King’s blessing.
I could rely on Ms. Baker to be truthful, remarked Diane Nash, a significant figure in the Civil Rights Movement. She was frank with me and gave me a lot of explanations. She would feel quite emotionally refreshed, dusted up, and ready to go when I left her. She ended up being my mentor.
Here is where Baker’s contacts to the NAACP paid off. She urged NAACP members to assist in voter registration, mentor community leaders, and lend support to those holding sit-ins and protests in Greensboro and other cities.
According to Baker herself, “Strong individuals don’t require strong leaders.”
She believed that after showing people the method, they could take control and manage local groups on their own. All they required was some initial direction, instruction, or illumination.
Give light, and others will discover the path, said Baker. She firmly thought that everyone had the potential to lead and participate in the resistance.
An Unsung Hero’s Legacy
King and Parks are frequently mentioned in relation to the Civil Rights Movement. Ella Baker is hardly ever mentioned, because she had consented to remain anonymous:
In her 1981 documentary Fundi: The Story of Ella Baker, Baker said, “I felt a larger sense of importance by being a member of people who were growing.” The Swahili word “Fundi,” Baker’s nickname, means a person who imparts their knowledge to future generations.
The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee member John Hope Franklin described Baker as “perhaps the most daring and the most selfless” of the 1960s activists.
Baker more than lived up to that moniker. Dec. 13, 1986, saw Baker’s passing. Her 83rd birthday was that day.
Even now, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights carries on her mission. The group works to enhance the lives of low-income individuals and strengthen communities while addressing the issues associated with the mass incarceration of minorities.