Ella Baker: The Backbone of the Civil Rights Movement | milk

Affectionately known as “Fundi,” Swahili for a person who teaches the next generation, Ella Baker was a driving force behind the civil rights movement.

Born in Norfolk, Virginia, Baker grew up in Littleton, North Carolina. Her maternal grandmother Josephine Elizabeth Ross was a key role model for her and her interest in activism. According to the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Ross was a slave who fought back and was whipped for her decision not to marry a man chosen for her by the slave owner.

Growing up among educated blacks, Baker learned early on the importance of hard work, knowledge, and faith.

“Ella Jo Baker’s life is marked by the elaboration of this paradoxical position: she drew on the strengths of her childhood community, rejected the structures of bourgeois femininity and the dominant ideologies of her society, and is affiliated with the Black Poor. whom she saw as the most oppressed and most capable of transforming the world through collective action,” Barbara Ransby wrote in “Ella Baker & the Black Freedom Movement.”

Baker was an academic who went to Shaw University and graduated valedictorian in 1927. Before finding her place in politics, Baker intended to become a missionary in the South. Baker challenged the practices she deemed unfair.

She moved to New York after graduation and became involved in social activism. Baker’s arrival in New York coincided with the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural awakening in the city’s black music, art, and literature. Journalist and social critic George Schuler mentored Baker. He organized economic resources for blacks like wholesale buying clubs during the Great Depression and founded the Young Negro Cooperative League (YNCL), which aimed to educate the community about economic benefits.

Baker was a founding member of YNCL and an advocate for economic freedom, literacy, and economic justice. “People can’t be free until there’s enough work in this country to give everyone a job,” Baker said, according to the Ella Baker Center.

In 1931, Baker was elected national director of the YNCL. She has advocated for women’s rights to equality in financial consumption. Under Baker and the 25 men and women of the YNCL, the organization set a goal of economic empowerment for black people within five years.

In 1938, Baker began working as secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Within five years, she served as director of the association’s branches, traveling throughout the South and working to increase the organization’s membership.

Baker believed that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities, not only for black people, but also for women to be considered equal to men. She has worked hard to establish an NAACP image that appeals to everyone.

In 1956 Baker co-founded In Friendship, an organization providing economic support for the civil rights movement in the South, which also included Stanley Levison and Bayard Rustin.

According to Stanford University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Institute for Research and Education, “In Friendship sought to help grassroots activists who faced economic retaliation as a result of their struggle against segregation. During its three years of operation, the organization has donated thousands of dollars to support the work of Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA).

Amid the Montgomery bus boycott, Ella Baker chose Rosa Parks to perform the refusal to budge while seated in the white section of a bus.

Baker was also the brains behind the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which brought together religious leaders in Atlanta in 1957 to discuss nonviolent strategies to fight for civil rights.

She was also instrumental in forming the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which organized student-led sit-ins at food counters during the civil rights movement. The committee directly challenged public segregation efforts.

According to Mary Cronk Farrell, Baker said the sit-ins were “a movement aimed at smearing America with racial segregation and discrimination – not just at the lunch counters but in every aspect of life”.

Baker said it was bigger than a meal.

“Young people were the hope of any movement. They were the ones who held the spirit,” Baker said according to Farrell.

Cornell West, a political activist, philosopher and social critic, called Baker one of the biggest advocates in a Time magazine interview on YouTube. West said there would be no civil rights movement without Baker’s example.

“Ella was one of the great leaders because you can see for example that she was someone who both inspired you and provided guidance through her actions and in conversation,” West said.

Ella Baker was not at the forefront of the civil rights movement. Yet she had boots on the ground. She has played an important role in the creation and growth of some of the most influential organizations in the movement. She also mentored some of the movement’s most notable leaders, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She even has her own song, “Ella’s Song,” by Bernice Johnson Reagon:

“Fighting doesn’t mean much,” the lyrics go. “I’ve come to realize that teaching others to stand up and fight is the only way my struggle survives. I am a woman who speaks with one voice and I need to be heard. Sometimes I can be quite picky. I won’t bow to anyone. We who believe in freedom cannot rest. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.

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