13 December 2009

Heroines ~ Ella Baker (13 December 1903 – 13 December 1986)

Ella Baker, official of the Southern Conference
Educational Fund, 3 January 1968 ~ Photograph: AP.

Ella Baker
was born and died on this day. Baker was an amazing woman ~ a radical and a democrat. Here is how Robert Moses recollects her views, which had an immense impact on he and many students in the early 1960s:
"As executive director of SCLC, a position she took reluctantly, Miss Baker had hoped to steer the ministers who formed its membership into grassroots community organizing for civil rights. She was doubtful and doubts and dissatisfaction with the organization deepened with her involvement. Southern ministers, she felt, weren't inclined toward grassroots organizing because of the hierarchical structures of their churches. And, more broadly she felt, as she put it, that it "[handicaps] oppressed people to depend largely on a [single] leader, because unfortunately in our culture, the charismatic leader usually becomes a leader because he has found a spot in the public limelight. It usually means that the media made him and the media may undo him. . . . My basic sense of it has always been to get people to understand that in the long run they themselves are the only protection they have against violence or injustice.
. . . People have to be made to understand that they cannot look for salvation anywhere but to themselves."

Her style strained an already uncomfortable political relationship and finally made it impossible for Miss Baker to continue with SCLC. "She wasn't church," one SCLC minister said. She wasn't deferential. She wasn't a man in an organization that was patriarchal as well as hierarchical. And what I think was probably the most critical tension: her concept of leadership, that it should emerge from the community and be helped in its growth by grassroots organizers, clashed with the SCLC's idea of projecting and protecting a single charismatic national leader."

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