Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement Essay

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Ella Josephine Baker was a giant among civil rights activists. Spanning nearly half the twentieth century, her long and varied career enabled her to touch many lives and leave a unique imprint on the cultural, social, political and economical transitions of both African Americans and society as a whole, specifically during the tumultuous decade of the 1960s. In contrast to other leading activists of her day, Baker fervently believed that true leaders rose up from the poor masses to a position of power, and as such she often made special efforts to reach out to the poorest of working class people, as a “fundi”, a teacher and mentor, to bring them into the
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This discouraging situation coupled with the disparity in ideology between Baker and SCLC’s leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, prevented Baker from becoming as extensively involved in SCLC has she had been for the NAACP. Baker, perhaps the movement’s greatest grassroots organizer, was a woman of the people – her mantra: “the Negro must quit looking for a savior and work to save himself” (Ransby, 188). King, on the other hand, was one of the movement’s most well known figureheads. Baker’s saw King as a member of DuBois’ “talented tenth”, the educated African Americans who were removed from the plight of the masses by their education and wealth. She noted that King’s speeches “overwhelmed as well as inspired” (Ransby, 190). The conflict between Baker and King is in effect a microcosm of one of the greatest problems with the movement itself: the need for strong leadership and representation to put a face on the movement and work directly with white leadership and government, versus the need for grassroots organizers to inspire everyday people to contribute funds, register to vote, engage in nonviolent protest, and work together. They also clashed on the issue of nonviolence. Although Baker “accepted nonviolence as a tactic” (Ransby, 193), she never accepted it as the only tactic available. This is not to say that Baker advocated violence, rather that she never made nonviolence a central theme in her philosophy