Whenever the Civil Rights Movement is mentioned, only a handful of names come to mind. It is now apparent that the Civil Rights Movement was a concerted effort orchestrated by a group of individuals. The only difference is that some of these gained “celebrity” status while the others slipped into oblivion. Besides Dr King and Malcolm X, other various individuals made substantial contributions to the modern Civil Rights Movement.
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These people have come to be known as the silent voices of the Modern Civil Rights Movement. Among this group, I find the life and work of Ella Josephine Baker to be worthy of recognition. This is the why she gets my nomination for recognition in the “Museum of Silent Voices of the Modern Civil Rights Movement”.
Ella Baker was a native of Norfolk, Virginia. From an early age, Baker was exposed to the injustices faced by African Americans. As a young girl, her grandmother used to tell Baker stories about slavery and slave revolts. Baker served in many capacities during the years she was active in public service. However, her tenure as the head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee is what should warrant Baker a place in the Museum.
When studying at Shaw University, Baker began working with organizations of social activism. After completing her education, Baker’s first active Civil Rights Movement contribution was with the NAACP.
She entered the organization as a secretary but she eventually managed to be the highest ranked woman in the organization. She was an outspoken contributor who advocated for the inclusion of women and young people in the NAACP. She also managed to form a network of southerners who later became major contributors to the Civil Rights Movement.
Her splendid organizational skills were again manifested when she helped organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Her argument was that the conference would build on the momentum created by the accomplishments of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. During that 1957conference, the leaders pushed for voter registration. Her activities at the time covered Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi.
When she was working with the SCLC, she convinced the organization to invite university students from the south to a leadership conference at Shaw University. This is when the organization formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). As the “godmother” of SNCC, Baker was able to make significant contributions to the Civil Rights Movement.
For instance, it was during this time when she coordinated the famous “freedom rides” of 1961. It was also during her work with SNCC that she was able to mentor future voices of the Civil Rights Movement. Some of these personalities include Diane Nash, Julian Bond, Bob Moses, Curtis Muhammad, and Stokely Carmichael.
Ella Baker deserves her place as one of the heroes of the modern Civil Rights Movement. Her philosophy of participatory democracy was a defining factor in the Civil Rights era. She advocated that groups, not individuals were important to the movement. This philosophy was the main drive for most of the radical groups that were formed in the 1960s.
Another of her significant contributions was the formation of a party that served as an alternative to the all-white Democratic Party in Mississippi. Prior to her death in 1986, Baker had made immense organizational-contribution to the Civil Rights Movement. Her place as a great voice of the Civil Rights Movement is solid.