Rather than pen another diary about the unsanitized, radical version of Dr. King such as ‘Restoring Socialist Visionary Radical Martin Luther King, or that he may have caused even an apatheist like myself to believe in God as we listened to him, I’ve chosen to feature a lesser known, but glorious, civil rights leader who shared none of the ‘honors’ her male counterparts had.
A portion of her brief bio from americanswhotellthetruth.org:
“The granddaughter of a slave who was beaten for refusing to marry a man her master chose for her, Ella Baker spent her life working behind the scenes to organize the Civil Rights Movement. If she could have changed anything about the movement, it might have been to persuade the men leading it that they, too, should do more work behind the scenes. Baker was a staunch believer in helping ordinary people to work together and lead themselves, and she objected to centralized authority. In her worldview, “strong people don’t need strong leaders.”
Baker was one of the visionaries who created the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957, and she recruited the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. into it. She served two terms as the SCLC’s acting executive director but clashed with King, feeling that he controlled too much and empowered others too little.
In 1960, when four black students in Greensboro, North Carolina, were refused service in a university cafeteria, setting off sympathetic sit-ins across the country, Baker seized the day. Starting with student activists at her alma mater, she founded the nationwide Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which gave young blacks, including women and the poor, a major role in the Civil Rights Movement.”
For those of you who don’t have sound mebbe Santa forgot to bring ya a sound chip), I’ve transcribed most of the end of her speech, although I wish you could hear Howard Zinn’s delicate, almost reverent, introduction, and the way he describes just how much those who loved and were inspired by her tireless dedication and selflessness did truly honor her. You’ll sadly miss the great humor Baker evidences, as well as her self-effacing jibes at other movemental figures’ descriptions of her, such as: ‘Ella is the work horse’.
“The future of our country depends not so much on what black people do, but on what white people do. Now this is a hard lesson for some of us…that the choice for whether or not we will rid the country of racism is a choice that white America has to make. But you say when blacks called for separatism, they are guilty for racism in reverse. In my etimation, the most radical statements that you can’t expect anything from whitey is really saying is “Show me”. He is begging to be shown. How? I don’t know; but one thing I do know is that if you sit back an wait and say, ‘Well, if the blacks aren’t going to work with me, I don’t want to be bothered with them, and I don’t want to interfere with their proceeding. When someone asks me what to do, I say that you must do something in terms of what you believe…and if your conviction, and if you’re not going to be motivated by your own convictions, and wait for blacks to tell you where to move…then we are doomed.
This is a news clipping that concerns a report by Dr. Robert Shello (sp?) prepared by the National Institute of Mental Health that was prepared for the report on urban disorders, but it wasn’t included in there. To the extent that [H. Rap] Brown encouraged anybody to engage in precipitous or disorderly acts, the city officials are clearly the ones he influenced most. Indeed, the existence of a riot existed in the most part…in the minds of city officials, and to the extent that Negro disorders occurred, it can best be interpreted as a response to actions of city officials. Brown was more a catalyst of white fears than of Negro antagonism, the disturbance more a product of white expectations than of Negro initiative. The twenty-four-year-old Negro leader was indicted on charges of inciting to arson and riot. I think the burning at the school took place about four hours after he was shot in the arm by a deputy and had left, and that the people in the community came out and tried to put out the blaze. But it’s a possibility that the chief of police had decided that he was ready for a riot, and so help him, there had to be one. Those of us who aren’t ready for the fires…will go to our city halls and elected officials and question why so much artillery is being bought and stacked and stocked to deal with people who are fighting against an oppressive system that they have become victim to. The voice of those who believe that life is more sacred than property…must be heard now…at no other time. [snip]
What I’m suggesting is that the trend toward repressive measures against those who are resisting the war, those who are resisting the racist repressions, those who are resisting the poverty that they endure, those who are challenging a system more and more of the repression is stepped up in terms of what? Eliminating those people…one way or another, containing…Rap Brown was sent to jail not because he had been tried and found guilty of a crime, but because he was an easy target. And if we take the position that ‘sure, I don’t believe in that kind of imprisonment, but you must remember what he said’. We must remember that the real issue is oppression, not for whom, but for anyone who is exercising what we say are our Constitutional rights of freedom of speech.”
Does that sound overly familiar? Small wonder.
She was the inspiration behind ‘Ella’s Song’ , written by fellow civil rights traveler Bernice Johnson Reagon, birther of Sweet Honey in the Rock; the rest of the lyrics are here.
Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons
Is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons
That which touches me most is that I had a chance to work with people
Passing on to others that which was passed on to me “To me young people come first, they have the courage where we fail
And if I can but shed some light as they carry us through the gale
The older I get the better I know that the secret of my going on
Is when the reins are in the hands of the young, who dare to run against the storm
‘Ella Taught Me: Shattering the Myth of the Leaderless Movement’ by Baker biographer Barbara Ransby. One portion:
“Baker represented a different leadership tradition altogether. She combined the generic concept of leadership—”A process of social influence in which a person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task”—and a confidence in the wisdom of ordinary people to define their problems and imagine solution. Baker helped everyday people channel and congeal their collective power to resist oppression and fight for sustainable, transformative change. Her method is not often recognized, celebrated or even seen except by many who are steeped in the muck of movement-building work. Yet Baker and her hardworking political progenies were essential.”
The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights website is here.
Related: R.L. Stephens II, writing at Orchestrated Impulse: ‘Dear #BlackLivesMatter: We Don’t Need Black Leadership’
And also: ‘Here’s How White People Can End Racism Forever’; What can white people do to end racism in the wake of the Charleston massacre? Two editors at Orchestrated Pulse sat down to discuss one of the hottest topics in think piecing’, by Drew Franklin & R.L. Stephens, including these provocative paragraphs, but I do hope you read all of it:
Drew: “No matter how prevalent these discussions become in the media’s gaze, the mainstream will never articulate that white supremacism is fundamental to the health of the American empire, whose continued existence is maintained through widespread violence and death. This is hard for many people to appreciate, especially with the emerging popularity of abstractions like “epistemic violence.” At the point of physical confrontation, there’s nothing abstract about it. All people, especially so-called allies, need to understand that when you really struggle against power systems, you expose yourself to deadly harm. Your enemies–the pigs, flanked by the Cliven Bundy’s and the Dylan Roofs of the world–have guns. And they have demonstrated their willingness to use them.
With that in mind, I think it borders on recklessness to tell white people there are a few simple things they can do to change the situation. If you follow that advice, you’ll either be completely ineffectual, or you’ll get fucked up. Either way, you’ve failed. Struggling for abolition requires that you first accept the inevitability of violent reaction, and then prepare yourself for it. As things stand, very few of us are in any position to deal with that reality.
R.L.: What should organizing that effectively reaches White people look like? Capitalist exploitation is perhaps the single most significant potential point of unity we have. Yet, none of these “talk to White people” articles mention White poverty even once. Dylann Roof wasn’t some college educated White guy making an off-color remark in your social justice non-profit. He’s a poor, unemployed, White kid who spent numerous nights sleeping in his car. White nationalists recognize the physical and psychological toll economic deprivation takes on people, the feelings of inferiority it engenders. They take advantage of that desperation, and they offer plausible yet false racist theories to explain that pain. That’s how you get a Dylan Roof.
Drew: And of course we can’t talk about poverty without talking about property. That’s why an integrated class analysis is not allowed. The narrative has been completely sanitized in the interests of the people who own the media platforms that have produced this commodification of analysis in the form of think pieces. We would all do well to study the propaganda model and think twice before taking news and pop discourse at face value.
Drew, earlier: I live this shit. We all do. We are all affected one way or another by the master-slave dialectic. Resolving that contradiction doesn’t come about from privilege-checking, or heart-to-heart conversations among white people, or from the uncritical sloganeering that pervades the progressive Left. You have to bleed for it.”
(I’ve meant to comment at the site about the fact that some of our geezer conditions can’t comply with our desires…)Ferguson Action’s #ReclaimMLK page, with locations, plans, proposed calendar, and so forth.
@BYP_100 Black Youth Project 100 is an activist member-based organization of Black 18-35 year olds, dedicated to creating justice and freedom for all Black people.
Yes, in Ella’s honor, let’s listen to the young ‘uns. 10:30 a.m. MST, Jan 16: