[A photograph of an impassioned Ella Baker, date and photographer unknown. Retrieved from http://ellabakercenter.org/about/who-was-ella-baker]
I had planned to write the first HHBlog post of 2017 on a different day, one removed from Inauguration Day and all of the trauma and violence going on today with this incoming American administration. But that would have felt false to me on multiple levels. The violence of this election season and of this inauguration are not housed within the confines of particular calendar dates or in the bodies of particular human beings, no matter how vile we may feel they are. This violence is systemic. It is a foundational part of the very institutions upon which the United States – as a settler colonial, capitalist, white supremacist, and patriarchal state – is built upon. So today – January 20th, the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States Mr. Donald Trump – marks our first HHBlog post of the year to both remind us that this is an interconnected struggle that has been going on long before our lifetimes, and to celebrate those who have been en la lucha in the generations before us.
Today’s inaugural post of 2017 is therefore dedicated to the one and only Ella Josephine Baker, a radical Black woman who helped lead the fight for Civil Rights in the twentieth century United States. Born in December 1903 in Virginia, she was an organizer and activist for the majority of her life, working primarily in less public roles than some of the more prominent men of the Civil Rights Movement, although she was no less important! While working alongside several Black activists such as W.E.B. du Bois and the Southern Chiristian Leadership Conference (SCLC), she also mentored a younger generation of radical Black activists such as Stokely Carmichael/Kwame Ture.
Baker was a proponent of radical participatory democracy who disavowed what she called “professional” leadership. She believed that “strong people” did not need “strong leadership.” She began her engagement in activism as a field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), traveling widely throughout the United States gathering funds and recruiting new NAACP members. After some time, she returned to her adopted city of New York and worked with various local Civil Rights organizations until 1957 when she joined the SCLC as the executive director – at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Her work with the SCLC eventually led to the organization of the event that created the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), of which she remained an active member and supporter long after having let the SCLC.
After the demise of the Civil Rights Movement – due to American legislation, FBI infiltration, and assassinations of prominent leaders – Ella Baker continued to fight for racial justice, lending her support to the Puerto Rican Solidarity Committee and the Third World Women’s Coordinating Committee. Ella Baker fought for justice for over five decades, eventually passing away on her 83rd birthday in 1986. Baker serves as an inspiration for those of us who fight – in whatever way we are able to – for intersectional racial justice. Baker understood that although she was principally concerned with Black Americans receiving justice, that this was a struggle connected to entire systems of oppression and injustice that affected everyone. Ella Baker serves as a critical reminder that women of colour, especially Black women, have been at the forefront in fighting for justice and rights for all of us. I encourage our readers to seek out the words and wisdom of women of colour who have led fights for justice, and who continue to do so in our communities today. Thank you, Ella Josephine Baker, and the countless Black women and non-Black women of colour who continue to fight on behalf of our communities.
“Ella Baker: Biography.” Accessed January 20th, 2017. http://www.biography.com/people/ella-baker-9195848#synopsis
“Who Was Ella Baker?” Accessed January 20th, 2017. http://ellabakercenter.org/about/who-was-ella-baker