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Wrong Kind of Green Collective

August 26, 2013

by Forrest Palmer

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Thought of the evening:

In commemorating the love fest for the “angelic” MLK Jr. and the March on Washington, I am going to focus on one of the greatest ladies who in my estimation was BETTER than King and much more IMPORTANT in her message and place in history: Ella Baker…There was no better grass roots organizer who worked mainly behind the scenes in the 20th century than this lady……due to her somewhat open aggression towards the Southern Christian Leadership Council, she was disallowed from speaking at the March on Washington, which was a slap in the face since her history in HUMAN rights movements had preceded King by almost 20 years…SHE deserved to speak BEFORE him since her sacrifices and work PRECEDED and SURPASSED HIS…in fact, there were NO WOMEN who were scheduled to speak on that day and it took a protest to finally get three on the dais…As much as we look at King in such reverential terms today, he was human and had flaws like we all do and I think that this god like presence that overshadows EVERYTHING in the black community is DETRIMENTAL since it relegates what is right or wrong to what ONE MAN would have thought on whatever subject even if he had no KNOWLEDGE on the topic…In all honesty, I don’t think that Baker would have been pleased with this statue being placed at the National Mall for King…judging by her past, she would have wanted it to be a monument to ALL the women and men who gave just as much and some even MORE to the movement…

Excerpts from a website on a great woman who has continuously been given short shrift in all memorials of the great black actors in this country, maybe our greatest of all and arguably our greatest of the 20th century:

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“Baker started her work for the NAACP in 1940. Beginning in 1943, she served as director of various branches of the organization, which she continued until 1946. In 1952, she became president of the New York City branch of the NAACP where she worked on issues of police brutality and school desegregation. In 1957, she left the NAACP to work for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that had been founded by Martin Luther King, Jr. following the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott. While working for the SCLC she organized voter registration campaigns among other things.

But here’s the thing–because she was a woman, her incredible organizing skills were almost completely ignored by the extremely sexist leadership of the civil rights organizations. They had almost no one more qualified than Baker, but they never utilized her talents to the extent she deserved. Baker was also a strong feminist and had involved herself in women’s rights campaigns since very early in her activist career.

Baker knew this of course and chafed against King, Ralph Abernathy, and the other sexist leaders of the movement. She respected their work on civil rights of course; that’s why she stuck it out. But she was constantly frustrated, both by the overt sexism and because she knew she should take a larger role in the movement.

Rather than wait for the SCLC to understand gender equality, Baker moved on her own. When the four North Carolina A&T students engaged in their sit-in at the Greensboro, North Carolina Woolworth’s, she recognized the potential of student activism far faster than the men of the SCLC. One thing that is forgotten in traditional narratives of the civil rights movement is that by 1960, it had stagnated. The success in Montgomery brought international fame to King and he continued to speak out and work on the issues. But there was deep disagreement within the SCLC on where to go next. Some wanted more bus boycotts, others wanted to work within the courts to overturn segregation. Remember that the only event between 1955 and 1960 that ever gets talked about is the Little Rock desegregation case and King had very little to do with that.

It took students to get the civil rights movement back on track. Baker quit the SCLC after the sit-ins. She organized a conference of the new student activists spreading across the South at her alma mater, Shaw University. Out of that was born the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which served as the core student organization within the movement until the late 1960s. Baker was their mentor; an experienced veteran who understood the long history of organizing around civil rights, a woman who encouraged students’ direct actions and both listened to their issues and provided guidance and leadership. Among the activities that SNCC coordinated was the Freedom Rides in 1961 and the Mississippi voter registration that led to Freedom Summer in 1964. Baker herself played a key role in organizing the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in 1964 that traveled to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City to challenge the seating of the all-white delegation from Mississippi.

After 1964, Baker moved back to New York where much of her family lived. She took a bit more of a backseat on national campaigns after this, but remained active the rest of her life. She played an important role in the Free Angela Davis campaign, traveling the country speaking about the issue in 1972. She supported the independence movements of the developing world and particularly spoke out in favor of Puerto Rican independence and against South African apartheid.

Moreover, Baker got pretty annoyed as she saw the King-centered narrative of the civil rights movement developed. She notoriously said things like, “[the] movement made Martin, and not Martin the movement” and “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.” Even during the movement’s height, she told activists that they needed to take control of the movement and not rely on a leader with “heavy feet of clay.” Baker reflected the feelings of many of the more direct-action oriented in the movement on these issues”

 

 

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