Oppressed people, whatever their level of formal education, have the ability to understand and interpret the world around them, to see the world for what it is, and move to transform it.— Ella Baker
The most blissful Ella Baker quotes you will be delighted to read
Until the killing of black men, black mothers' sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother's sons, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.
My theory is, strong people don't need strong leaders.
One of the things that has to be faced is the process of waiting to change the system, how much we have got to do to find out who we are, where we have come from and where we are going.
In order for us as poor and oppressed people to become part of a society that is meaningful, the system under which we now exist has to be radically changed... It means facing a system that does not lend its self to your needs and devising means by which you change that system.
You didn't see me on television, you didn't see news stories about me.
The kind of role that I tried to play was to pick up pieces or put together pieces out of which I hoped organization might come. My theory is, strong people don't need strong leaders.
I had known, number one, that there would never be any role for me in the leadership capacity with SCLC. Why? First, I'm a woman. Also, I'm not a minister. And second, I am a person that feels that I have to maintain some degree of personal integrity and be my own barometer of what is important and what is not.
I came out of a family background that involved itself with people.
I think you can find some rationales for that if we look at the background out of which he came. Martin [Luther King] had come out of a highly competitive, black, middle-class background.
Give light and people will find the way.
I think personally, I've always felt that the Association [NAACP] got itself hung-up in what I call its legal successes. Having had so many outstanding legal successes, it definitely seemed to have oriented its thinking in the direction that the way to achieve was through the courts.
I've never credited myself with a professional life. But, basically, it has been that.
Strong people do not need strong leaders.
I was born in Norfolk, Virginia. I began school there, the first year of public school. When I was 7, the family shifted back to North Carolina. I grew up in North Carolina; had my schooling through the college level in North Carolina.
The anniversary of the Montgomery boycott was being celebrated, and the handbill that was out, and all whatever literature that was circulated, didn't say practically anything about movement or what the movement stood for, what it had done, or anything, but was simply adulation of the leader, you know, [Martin Luther] King.
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was more politically oriented.
Part and parcel of the initial SNCC efforts was to not only go in for voter registration, but for political participation.
During the Depression years, I began to identify to some extent with the unemployed, the organization for the unemployed at that period.
I began to feel that my greatest sense of success would raise the level of masses of people, rather than the individual being accepted by the Establishment. So, this kind of personal thinking, combined with, say, even the little bit more radical thinking - because at one time the pacifist movement was a very radical concept.
When I came out of the Depression, I came out of it with a different point of view as to what constituted success. And that was even just even personal success.
I think that Walter's [White] whole career is indicative of a large degree of egocentricity. Perhaps to be generous, you would have to say that he was a product of his period, which was that of self-projection in the name of organizational interest.
One of the stories that dominates our family literature was the fact that my maternal grandfather contracted for - I don't know under what terms - but, for a large section of the old slave plantation. He established himself - sisters and brothers, cousins, etc. on fifty- and sixty-acre plots.
When I went to the Association [ National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] I learned a few things by observation. One of the things that used to strike me was [Walter White] need to impress people, even just people who came into the office.
I don't think that the leadership of Montgomery was prepared to capitalize, let's put it, on the projection that had come out of the Montgomery situation. Certainly, they had not reached the point of developing an organizational format for the expansion of it. So discussions emanated, to a large extent, from up this way.
[Walter White] was also one of the best lobbyist of the period.
I believe, the [Gunnar] Myrdal study had been made, and if we hadn't had anything else to raise questions, this in itself would have been something to provoke thought in the direction of the value of accommodating leadership.
Both my parents came from North Carolina, in Warren County.
My mother had a feeling that there was greater culture in North Carolina than obtained in Norfolk, Virginia, plus the fact she just didn't like the lowland-lying climate there.
I have always felt it was a handicap for oppressed peoples to depend so largely upon a leader, because unfortunately in our culture, the charismatic leader usually becomes a leader because he has found a spot in the public limelight...
After the '57 initial meeting - I was up this way working, not as a staff person - there became the need for a much more definite organized office. What you'd had prior to that time were these big meetings in different places, and there was nobody to pull anything together. Everything was left to [Martin Luther] King and the group that was around him.
But one of the things that has to be faced is
I don't know, except that the only simple answer, I think, is that SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] had never really developed an organizing technique. I've always characterized the difference in saying that they went in for mobilization. And, to be honest, in terms of the historical facts, their mobilization usually was predicated upon some effort at organizing by someone else. And, at this stage, it was largely SNCC.
Martin [Luther King] wasn't, basically, the kind of person - certainly at the stage that I knew him closest - wasn't the kind of person you could engage in dialogue with, certainly, if the dialogue questioned the almost exclusive rightness of his position.
From the Cooperative League, I suppose, with the Depression lingering as long as it did, the next step in terms of, as you call it, professional relationship, was to go to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People [NAACP]. I went there as an assistant field secretary, and so forth. So, I suppose that was the first organized step.
I, perhaps, at that stage, had the kind of ambition that others may have had;
you know, namely based on the concept that if you were trained the world was out there waiting for you to provide a certain kind of leadership and give you an opportunity. But with the Depression, I began to see that there were certain social forces over which the individual had very little control.
One of the particular things that impressed me was one visitor [of NAACP] - I think it was - it wasn't the Prime Minister of England. We were located then on 14th Street and Fifth Avenue, up several flights of rickety stairs, and he came all the way up those stairs to see Walter [White], largely because of certain kinds of impact, I think, that the Association seemingly was having.
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.
I think the reasons for not selecting persons like the Reverend Borders and John Wesley Dobbs were, in my book rather obvious reasons: because they were people who were basically oriented in the direction of the established method of not confronting the power structure, but trying to elicit concessions by various and sundry means of, well, let's call it accommodating leadership.
Remember, we are not fighting for the freedom of the Negro alone, but for the freedom of the human spirit a larger freedom that encompasses all mankind.
I guess the best way to describe that would be to connect with the fact that I came out of college just before the big Depression, and I came to New York.
I think, to be honest, sort of emanated from the initial work of somebody else instead of SCLC. If you take Albany; I don't know whether you recall how Albany got started. There were two little guys who went up there first. One was Cordell Hull who was then in his teens - not Cordell Hull - Cordell Reagan, who came out of the Nashville movement, and Charles Sherrod, who came out of the Richmond, Virginia, movement.
There is also the danger in our culture that because a person is called upon to give public statements and is acclaimed by the establishment, such a person gets to the point of believing that he is the movement.
[Walter White] had keep [people] waiting while you got the impression that he was terribly busy with calls to Washington. I've seen such exhibitions in that direction as having someone come out of his office to the switchboard operator - which at that time was sort of located in the center of wherever people were waiting - and ask to call such-and-such a place, or a call through to Mr. So-and-so, or somebody like this, you see.
[Martin Luther] King was one of the two young ministers - and you know how directly oriented the Negro community still is towards the minister as the leader.
I went to what is known as, and was at that time, too, Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. In fact, because of the lack of public school facilities, I began there. I began boarding school at the high school level; in fact, a year below the high school level.
My association with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference is sort of predated by an effort that we were a part of here in New York City regarding the reaction to this 1954 Supreme Court [Brown v Board of Education] decision.
I suppose that the first organized effort that might be considered something of civil rights was the Young Negroes' Cooperative League. Now, this offers certain contradictions at this point, perhaps, because it was stimulated by the writings of George Schayler who, at this point, is considered an arch-conservative, I understand.
I didn't break the rules, but I challenged the rules.
In order to see where we are going, we not only must remember where we have been, but we must understand where we have been.
Unless you had developed a certain independence of value, a certain independent system of value, a system of values that was independent from this middle-class drive for recognition. This has been my explanation of part of [Martin Luther King] general role. So, he accepted this without too much resistance. In fact, none that I could ever see, and at certain points I was close enough to see something.
Martin [Luther King] wasn't one to buck forces too much.
I didn't have any close relationship with him because, although [William Edward Burghardt] DuBois may not have been as egocentric - I don't know - he certainly was not the easiest person to approach. I think, certainly, those of us who were younger sort of respected that in terms of his preoccupation with deep thoughts. So, I made no effort to establish any relationship with him. However, he was in and out then.