Showing posts with label civil rights movement. Show all posts
Showing posts with label civil rights movement. Show all posts

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Damn, Girl-Wilma Mankiller

Wilma Mankiller¹ was the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation and was an instrumental part of reshaping the way the United States Federal Government interacts with Native American Nations. During her eleven years as Chief, she brought running water and electricity to Cherokee in rural and impoverished areas, revitalized the reservation school system, and won back the right for the Cherokee people to control their own government funds and programs.

Image result for wilma mankiller
Wilma
Born November 18, 1945, Wilma Mankiller was number six of eleven children living in a tiny four-room house. Her parents, Charlie Mankiller and Irene Sitton, were very poor, relying on food they grew themselves and itinerant agriculture jobs in Colorado to survive. Their home, located on Mankiller Flats², lacked both electricity and running water.

In 1956, Wilma's family participated in the government relocation program signed into law by the Indian Relocation Act of 1956. This act exchanged reservation land for homes and vocational training in cities. Around 30,000 Native Americans participated in the program, moving to Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Denver, Dallas, and other large urban areas. Participants were promised reimbursement for moving expenses, as well as money to live on for a month after moving. This was widely seen by Native Americans as a way to improve lives for their children, as communities on reservations were, and continue to be, very poor.

Much to Wilma's chagrin, her parents decided to take advantage of the opportunity, and packed up their home. They chose to relocate to San Francisco, as it was close to where Irene's mother lived. Wilma was distraught by this move. It was a complete culture shock for her, moving from a tiny rural community to a large city.

Life didn't improve much for the Mankillers in the city. The Federal Government reneged on their deal, and much of the assistance promised to the Mankillers, as well as thousands of others, never arrived. For many Native Americans this meant homelessness, as the promised money and jobs never materialized. For the Mankillers, this meant that Wilma's father and brothers had to work long hours in factories, and the family lived in a dangerous housing project.

Wilma graduated high school in 1963 and married Ecuadorian businessman Hector Hugo Olaya de Bardi shortly after. In an interview with an Oklahoma radio station, Wilma described Hector as being handsome and kind. He wanted to rescue her from her life of poverty, and he very much wanted Wilma to be a traditional 1960s housewife. They had two daughters together--Gina and Felicia--and lived happily for several years.

Image result for occupation of alcatraz
The Occupation of Alcatraz lasted 19 months
before fizzling out and dying. 
Everything changed for Wilma when a group of Native American activists occupied Alcatraz Island on November 20, 1969. In a movement comparable to the 2016-2017 Standing Rock Protests, a group of native and non-native protesters gathered on Alcatraz island and refused to leave. The Occupation of Alcatraz was based off the terms of the Treaty of Fort Laramie, an 1868 treaty between the US Federal Government and the Lakota people which stated that abandoned federal lands would revert back to the tribes who previously occupied them. When the Alcatraz penitentiary closed down in 1963, the land once again became native property. However, as is always the case, the US Federal Government had no intention of honoring this treaty. The issue of Alcatraz may have been swept under the rug entirely had not a group of 89 Native Americans claimed the island.

The occupation was an eye-opener for Wilma. San Francisco of the '60s was a wild place at the heart of the feminist, civil rights, and gay rights movements, and Wilma was no stranger to activism. Her parents had been involved in organizing community programs, and she was surrounded by young people attempting to make a difference. However, the occupation inspired Wilma to get involved herself. She followed the occupation obsessively, and visited and fund-raised for the protesters, taking them food with her young daughters on several occasions. She was also inspired to do some research into her own history. She read stories about the Haudenosaunee, and realized how Eurocentric the historical narrative being presented in schools was, and she decided to help educate the public about native history. She held public forums and sponsored films about native history.

During this time, Wilma also started to seriously get involved in social work. Realizing that dropout rates among Native American teens were rising, Wilma helped create after-school programs for Native American students and became the Indian Affairs Coordinator for the Oakland School District. All of this gave her valuable experience that would help her later.

While Wilma was doing fantastic things for her community, her activism was hard on her personal life. Her husband, never too keen on his wife doing non-wifely things, had grown even more chagrined as she started and completed college and started to get more and more involved in native affairs. In 1977 they divorced, and Wilma moved her and her two daughters back to Oklahoma.

Arriving back at Mankiller Flats, Wilma saw how poor her community was. She wanted to build up her community, so she began to collaborate with the Principal Chief of the Cherokee nation, Ross Swimmer. She created and served in the role of Community Coordinator, helping to oversee social programs for the nation. She also began to study infrastructure development as a graduate student at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

Wilma had a considerable commute between her work and school, and in 1979, she was involved in a catastrophic traffic accident that would claim the life of her best friend, Sherry Morris. Wilma had been driving up a hill when Sherry attempted to pass another vehicle on a blind curve. Wilma and Sherry collided head on, destroying the two cars. Wilma had to be cut out of her car and was rushed to the hospital. Her ribs, face, and left leg had been crushed, and her right leg broken. Sherry Morris died in the ambulance.

Image result for cherokee nation headquarters tahlequah
Cherokee Nation Headquarters in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
Wilma worked here from 1978-1995.
The accident would result in Wilma spending a year in recovery. She spent much of that year in a wheelchair. She also developed myasthenia gravis, a disease which made it difficult for her to chew or speak. She continued to work when she could however, and she eventually recovered. She would later attribute her recovery to her integration of the Cherokee idea of "being of good mind" into her life. For Wilma, "being of good mind" meant accepting what the Creator threw at her and finding the positive in her circumstances.

This was just one of many periods of health difficulties in Wilma's life. She would later have to have a kidney transplant and have cancer three times.

Following recovery, Wilma remained busy. She honed in on the Bell Community, a tiny town in rural Adair County. Much like Mankiller Flats, Bell was deeply impoverished. A quarter of the homes didn't have indoor plumbing, and almost none of them had running water. Homes were dilapidated to the point of danger, and school enrollment in the community was dropping. Bell wasn't on the Cherokee reservation, but most of the citizens were Cherokee, and several spoke only Cherokee. Ross Swimmer and Wilma agreed that something needed to be done. They decided that the Cherokee Nation would team up with Bell to approve the community. The nation would provide engineers and materials, and Bell would provide the manpower.

This kicked off a several years' long coordination project between the Cherokee Nation and Bell. Wilma hit the road along with Cherokee traditionalist and activist, Charlie Soap. The pair would spend many hours persuading Bell citizens to cooperate with the nation and coordinated community efforts for different projects.

Image result for bell oklahoma
Bell, Oklahoma. As of the 2010 census, Bell had 535
residents.
The biggest achievement of this project was the Bell Waterline, a sixteen-mile-long pipeline that brought fresh water to the community. The pipe was built in two-mile segments, with each segment being done by a different family. It was Wilma's job to make sure that each person was performing the right job at the right time in the right place. The project was a wild success, leading the way for future community development projects. The project also led to Wilma marrying Charlie Soap. They would remain married until her death in 2010.

With the Bell project behind her, Wilma was beginning to become quite well known. Still, it was a surprise to everyone when Ross Swimmer asked her to run as his deputy chief in 1983.

There was significant pushback at the announcement of Wilma's candidacy. Many voters didn't like that she was a woman, a Democrat, an outspoken activist, and new to politics. Campaign signs with her name on them were burned, her tires were slashed, and Wilma received death threats.³ Many of the people running for Tribal Council along with Swimmer threatened to not run if he didn't drop Wilma from the ticket. Swimmer refused. He would later tell Wilma that he wanted her as his deputy chief because she loved what she did and she was honest with money. They won with a slim majority.

Finally, instead of petitioning government officials to allocate funds to community projects, Wilma was able to allocate funds herself and get social programs done. She and Swimmer worked together for two years before he stepped down to head up the Bureau of Indian affairs, leaving Wilma as the first Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. Though she experienced resistance from some members of her Tribal Council, Wilma won their respect. She would be elected for two more terms, retiring in 1995.

Image result for wilma mankiller
Wilma's autobiography
During her time as chief, Wilma oversaw a great deal of social improvements. She helped build clinics in rural areas, revitalize failing schools, and create housing. Under her leadership, infant mortality levels went down and education levels went up. Employment rates doubled, and tribal enrollment tripled. Notably, in 1990 she was instrumental in negotiating a self-governance agreement from the US Federal Government that, for the first time since 1907, allowed the Cherokee people direct control over their own funds and government programs.

Wilma passed away from pancreatic cancer on April 6, 2010. She left an enormous legacy behind her and greatly improved the lives of her people. She spent her life working to fix the un-glamorous problems of poverty and left her community much richer for it. She received recognition for her work in 1998 when President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Honor.


If you want to help continue Wilma's life's work, you can donate to the Wilma Mankiller Foundation here.


¹"Mankiller" was a title given to high ranking warriors in small Cherokee communities. This title belonged to one of Wilma's forebearers and was assigned to the family as their surname by a census official. "Mankiller" is, without doubt, one of the most epic surnames available.
²Mankiller Flats is part of the 160 acres allotted to Wilma's great-grandfather in 1907. Cherokee lands that had once been held in common were allotted into 160-acre plots. As of 2009, Wilma's family held 100 acres and her cousins 60.
³Wilma told the aforementioned Oklahoma radio station that during this time she received several phone calls from an unknown number. The caller would call, say nothing, cock a gun, and hang up.

This article edited by Mara Kellogg.


More on Similar Topics



Sources
Makiller: a Chief and Her People by Wilma Mankiller and Michael Wallis
Wilma Mankiller-National Women's History Museum
Wilma Mankiller-Encyclopedia of World Biography
About Wilma-Mankiller Foundation
Wilma Mankiller-FemBio
Wilma Mankiller-Women on 20s
Just Doing "What I Could", Wilma Mankiller Changed Native America-Smithsonian Voices
October 13, 2008 Radio Interview With NPR
August 13, 2009 Interview with Voices of Oklahoma


Thursday, April 4, 2019

Damn, Girl-Madam C.J. Walker, Millionaire, Beauty Guru, Entrepreneur, Philanthropist

Born Sarah Breedlove, Madam C.J. Walker was a wildly successful business woman who overcame the Reconstruction Era limitations put on African Americans to become the first female millionaire. Part businesswoman, part philanthropist, part activist, Madam Walker and her company gave education and well-paying jobs to thousands of African American women, and left a legacy of education and self-sufficiency that still survives today.

Image result for c. j. walker
Sarah Breedlove
Sarah was born in December of 1867 in Delta, Louisiana on the same plantation her parents and elder siblings had been enslaved on. Sarah was the first of her family to be born free and grew up against the shaky and uncertain background of the post-Civil War South. Her parents, though technically free, were unable to leave the plantation because of a lack of funds and the "Black Codes", laws that restricted the movements of African Americans. They and their children kept working in the cotton fields, and Sarah was put to work helping them at a young age.

Though Sarah's mother, Minerva Breedlove, would have liked for her daughter to attend school, African Americans of the era were still not alloted all the rights of white Americans. Schools were segregated, and black schools were frequently burned, and teachers harrassed or killed. Furthermore, in 1873, the year Sarah would have started first grade, the Louisiana state legislature refused to fund public schools, and the schools in Sarah's parish, as well as many others, shuttered. Because of this, Sarah was unable to get a formal education, a problem Sarah would attempt to remedy throughout most of her life.

An unfortunate fact of Sarah's life is that she was never very lucky. This bad luck started off in 1873 when Minerva died. Sarah's father, Owen Breedlove, remarried, but he passed in 1875 when Sarah was only seven. The exact natures of their deaths are unknown, but it is supposed that they, along with many others, were carried off by the cholera or yellow fever epidemics that swept the South. The Breedloves died leaving six children orphans.

Image result for delta louisiana
Delta, Louisiana
It was difficult to find work in Delta, and so the family, one by one, left for Vicksburg, Mississippi, not far from where Sarah and her younger brother, Solomon, were living with their elder sister, Louvenia, and her husband, Jesse. Sarah's older brothers, unable to find work, gradually headed west to St. Louis, Missouri, leaving Sarah at the mercy of her brother in law. Jesse was a violent and abusive man who resented Sarah, and to escape him, Sarah married Moses McWilliams. She was only fourteen.

Sarah was notoriously tight-lipped about her past, and not much is known about her marriage with Moses. From Sarah's telling of it, it was a strictly pragmatic move on her part, born out of a desire for her own home rather than true love. Regardless, they had one child together, Lelia, who would be more or less the center of Sarah's life until her death.

Bad luck struck again, and in 1888, Moses died. Like with Sarah's parents, the cause of death has been lost to time, though the popular legend is that he was among the 95 victims of lynching in Mississippi that year. This claim is more or less refuted by A'lelia Bundles, Sarah's great-great-granddaughter, citing evidence that these claims originated from people who didn't know Moses, long after Sarah's death. There are other claims that Moses died in a work accident, but if there was any official documentation in the matter, it has been lost to history. Irregardless, he left Sarah a widow with a two year old child to support.

Sarah had been working as a laundress in Vicksburg, and she and Moses had been just barely scraping by. With the loss of Moses's income, there was no way Sarah could survive in Vicksburg, and there was no chance for improvement in Mississippi, so Sarah went to St. Louis to join her brothers.

Image result for a'lelia walker
A'lelia would go on to become a major
figure in the Harlem Renaissance.
Alexander, James, and Solomon Breedlove were all working as barbers when Sarah and Lelia joined them in 1889. At the time being a barber was a prestigious profession for an African American man, and Sarah's brothers enjoyed reasonable prosperity. Through familial association, Sarah was undoubtedly able to learn things that would greatly assist her in the haircare business later.

Finding a job was difficult, especially as a single mother. The only work Sarah was able to find was as a live-in-maid to a wealthy white family, a job that would not allow her to keep Lelia with her. Though it undoubtedly broke her heart, Sarah put Lelia in an orphanage, on the arrangement that Lelia would not be put up for adoption, and worked tirelessly for about a year until she had enough saved up to start her own business as a laundress. Lelia rejoined her, and she was able to send her daughter to school.

In 1894, Sarah married again, this time to John Davis, a ne'er-do-well who had a drinking problem and a bit of fluff on the side. Almost immediately, their marriage soured as Davis was brazenly unfaithful, and refused to work. He was brought up before the courts several times, which undoubtedly humiliated Sarah, who worked tirelessly to create a good reputation for herself and her daughter.

Not much is known about this second marriage, because, as with so much of the unsavory bits of Sarah's past, she attempted to have all mentions of it expunged. However, it is very telling that pair had to move several times, and in 1899, Lelia attended school only 23 times, despite the fact that she had attended school almost religiously the year before and would do the same after. By 1903, the pair had separated for good, and Sarah had begun seeing Mr. Charles Joseph Walker, an ad man and reporter for the local black newspapers.

Image result for 1904 world's fair
1904 World's Fair
In 1900, Sarah had, with the help of her church friends, started attending night classes. Sarah was ambitious, she wanted to move up in the world, and, having rubbed elbows with the middle class in church attendance, she was determined to become a respectable and affluent person in her own right. She just wasn't sure how to go about it.

Sarah attended the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, and there she attended meetings and lectures given by some of the most prominent black leaders of the day, including Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois. Their talk of civil rights and their determination to end lynching inspired Sarah, but she was very intimidated by them, due to her lack of wealth and appearance.

Like many women of the era, Sarah was going bald. Poor nutrition and lack of access to clean water for washing had led to a scalp infection, which had caused her hair to break off and caused her to develop bald spots. Sarah tried a multitude of remedies, and in 1903, Sarah found a solution, Annie Pope Turnbo's Miracle Hair Grower. Not only did this ointment help Sarah regrow her hair, but she also began to work as a door-to-door saleswoman for the company.

In 1905, Sarah moved again, this time to Denver. Lelia was at boarding school in Tennessee, and it was growing ever more difficult to make a living as a Turnbo Saleswoman in St. Louis. The market was oversaturated with Turbo products, and there was no real path to advancement for Sarah. However, rumors were that Denver was hell on the hair. So once again she packed her bags, and arrived in Denver with $1.50 in her pocket and a bag of hair products to sell.

Image result for poro hair products
Annie Pope Turnbo would rebrand many times,
but her products eventually became known
under the name Poro.
Luckily, Sarah had family in Denver. Her sister-in-law and three nieces lived in the booming mine town, and Sarah was able to rely on her for support while she found her feet. Sarah found work as a cook in a boarding house and made friends with the local pharmacist, Edmund Scholtz.

Pharmacists at the time were just as much mad scientist as pill counters, and Scholtz helped Sarah analyze the ingredients of her Turnbo hair products so that Sarah could add and take away from the creams and create her business. Sarah likely took him up on the offer, and in 1905, she rented a small attic she used as a laboratory, mixing up hair remedies to try on herself and her nieces.

Sarah would later claim that the idea and recipes for her products would come to her in a dream, but this can be easily dismissed as self-aggrandizing nonsense and was about par for the course in Sarah's attempt to sugarcoat her past. Without the contributions of Edmund Scholtz and Annie Turnbo, Sarah would never have gotten anywhere.

She continued to sell Turnbo hair products, as well as other soaps and cures made up by local companies. By 1905, Sarah had saved up enough to quit her cooking job, and she set up a hair salon, giving hair treatments and selling products first Ms. Turnbo's, then her own. Though she still took in washing two days a week, she began to make money off her own business.

Sarah had still been seeing Charles Walker, though, given the distance, their relationship was likely more "off again" than "on again". However, in late 1905, he joined Sarah in Denver, and they were married on January 4, 1906.
Related image
Sarah's first product line included three products. The
'Wonderful Hair Grower' was one of them.

Charles was a businessman as well, and he joined ship. Though their relationship would end up as tumultuous as Sarah's previous relationship, he made two major contributions to Sarah's business. He suggested that she add a mail-order element to her business model, and he suggested that she rebrand her products as "Mrs. C.J. Walker". Sarah took these ideas and ran with them. She hired her daughter and nieces to run the mail-order arm of her company and branded her products under the name "Madam C.J. Walker", a name invoking all the refinement of a French salon.

Though she was selling well in Denver, Sarah wanted to expand. Against her husband's protests, she left Lelia in charge of the mail-order side of business and went on a sales and lecture tour of the Rocky Mountain and Southern states to gain brand recognition, promote her "Walker Method" of grooming, and increase sales. She began to advertise in prominent black newspapers, taking the extraordinary leap of using pictures of herself for her before and after shots in advertisements. This lent her extra credibility because then, as now, advertisers would often use pictures of two completely different people in their before and after pictures.

Her business was growing to an almost unmanageable point, so Sarah decided to move from Denver which, while a good city, was not the bustling trade hub Sarah needed. In 1907, Sarah moved her company to Pittsburgh, a major transport hub that would drastically reduce Sarah's shipping costs. Sarah opened up a factory and started making her products on a wider scale.

Most importantly, while in Pittsburgh Sarah opened up the Lelia College of Beauty Culture to train the thousands of "hair culturists" that sold her products. In this school, Sarah not only taught sales strategies but also taught how to give hair treatments and how to dress hair. Her goal for her hair culturists was that they would not only sell products, but also sell the women they served on a lifestyle of cleanliness and style. Sarah firmly believed that being clean and well-groomed was as much a secret to success as hard work, and she wanted to spread her secret to as many of her sisters as she could.

Sarah was a devout woman, and her faith informed her business practices. The churches she belonged to stressed charitable action, and Sarah believed that it was her duty to not only do charity but to also raise her employees up with her and give them the opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families. Sarah's school gave African-American women the skills they needed to start their own businesses and paid well enough that the children of her employees were able to attend school, something still rare for the era.
Image result for c.j. walker theatre
After shuttering in 1981, Sarah's manufacturing plant became
the 'Madam Walker Theatre'

Throughout her career, Sarah employed more than 10,000 black women, and their average pay was between $15 and $40 a week, about $430--$1,148 in 2019 currency. She extended this pay level to not only her skilled saleswomen but to her less skilled factory workers as well. Sarah was known for being a good and generous employer throughout her life.

Pittsburgh was never the intended final resting place of Sarah's business, and in 1910, she moved to Indianapolis where she incorporated. Indianapolis was, at the time, the crossroads of America, and contained a thriving black business community. She opened another factory there, as well as another beauty school, and started to rake in the cash.

The year of her move to Indianapolis Sarah "divorced"¹ Walker. He had never been content being her subordinate, and had been unfaithful to Sarah. He attempted several times to counterfeit her products but was never successful. Though she was no longer technically "Mrs. C.J. Walker", Sarah kept the name because it was inextricably mixed up with her brand.

Sarah stopped personally overseeing her company in 1913, leaving operations to be managed by Lelia. She turned her attention to philanthropy, giving generous sums to the YMCA, retirement homes, convalescent homes, and orphanages. She sponsored at least six students at the Tuskegee Institute and provided scholarships for several black women to attend schools of higher learning. She made charitable giving a part of her company culture and encouraged her employees to get involved in charity. Upon her death, Sarah willed two thirds of her net worth to charity, including giving the NAACP the $5,000 ($143,622 in 2019 currency) they would need to stay afloat during the Great Depression.

Not content to remain a philanthropist, Sarah took up activism as well. Sarah had had strong political opinions since her encounters at the 1904 world fair not a decade before. As a prosperous woman, Sarah felt she finally had something to bring to the table. She joined the NAACP, and helped organize the "Silent Protest" of 1917. She encouraged her employees to get involved on a local level.

Image result for villa lewaro
The Villa Lewaro, in Harlem. Sarah took the name for her
home from the name of her daughter, Lelia Walker Robinson
Interestingly, Sarah clashed with the most influential civil rights leader of the time--Booker T. Washington. Sarah's usage and promotion of the hot comb--an early hair straightener--caused Washington to accuse her of attempting to whitewash black women. This combined with the perceived frivolity of the beauty industry caused Washington to dismiss Sarah as a business leader, despite the fact that she frequently sought his approval. However, as Sarah grew more influential and inspiration in black business circles he grudgingly gave her his respect.

Sarah moved to New York in 1914 with the intention to rest. A life of struggle and stress had left Sarah with hypertension and nephritis. Sarah's version of "rest" wasn't very restful, however, and she continued her activism and philanthropy. In May of 1919, she died of kidney disease.

If we're talking about people who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, Sarah Breedlove Walker is foremost among them. Where so many people who claim to be "self-made" have come from incredibly privileged backgrounds, Sarah started with nothing and through hard work and determination, she pulled herself out of poverty to create a company that would not only give her daughter a better life, but would also create a better life for her thousands of employees, and their children. Sarah's determination to lift up her community has left an immeasurable impact on the African American community



¹We put "divorced" in air quotes, because when Sarah went to divorce Charles, she discovered that she had never gotten around to divorcing John Davis, which meant Sarah had been living as a bigamist for four years.

This article was edited by Mara Kellogg.


More on Similar Topics



Sources
On Her Own Ground: the Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker by A'lelia Bundles
Madam C.J. Walker: Inventor, Entrepreneur, Millionaire by Mary N. Olounye
Madam C.J. Walker-Biography
Madam C.J.Walker-Official Website
Madam C.J. Walker-National Women's History Museum
Madam C.J. Walker-Encyclopedia Britannica
Madam C.J. Walker's Philanthropy
Madam C.J. Walker-Archbridge Institute
Madam C.J. Walker-The History Chicks
Currency Conversion

 

Friday, May 25, 2018

Damn, Girl-Ella Baker-The Woman Behind the Civil Rights Movement

Activist Ella Josephine Baker was born on December 13, 1903. Dying exactly 83 years later, Ella would live through both world wars, the great depression,and the civil rights movement. She is best known for her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. While she isn't as well known as visible leaders like Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Baker was one of the major driving forces behind the movement. While everyone else gave speeches, Ella traveled around the country, registering voters and organizing protests.

Image result for ella baker
Ella Baker
Growing up in Norfolk Virginia, Ella was heavily influenced by her grandmother, a former slave. Her grandmother would tell Ella stories about the injustices of slavery, the most famous being the time she was severely whipped for refusing to marry a man her master had picked out for her. In her early years Ella developed both a strong sense of self, as well as an outrage about the discrimination she and other African Americans faced.

In 1930, Ella started off her career in activism by joining the Young Negros¹ Cooperative League (YNCL). The purpose of YNCL was the provide shared resources for young African Americans. The organization had a strong emphasis on gender equality, as well as anti-capitalism. She soon became national director of the organization.

Around 1940 Ella began a leadership career with the NAACP. She began as a field secretary, and later served as a Director of Branches from 1943-1946. In this role, Ella worked heavily on voter registration in African American communities. She traveled across the country registering voters, and coordinating directly with local chapters. She trained activists (including Rosa Parks), and recruited members. She is widely acknowledged to have done a great deal of the hard, nitty-gritty work for the NAACP.

Ella had to step down from her leadership role in 1946 in order to move to New York and raise her orphaned niece. She joined the NAACP chapter in New York, and remained heavily involved with working to end social injustices. In 1952 she was elected president of her chapter, the first woman to ever be elected president of an NAACP chapter. As president, she worked to end school segregation, and build unity between chapters of the NAACP.

Image result for ella baker
Ella speaking at a protest
With the creation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1958, Ella moved to Atlanta to serve as it's director. The SCLC is heavily associated with Dr. Martin Luther King, who served as the public face of the organization. Behind the scenes, Ella was calling the shots. She chose the issues the SCLC would focus on, planned protests, and trained other activists.

Unfortunately, within the SCLC Ella encountered a great deal of misogyny. Relations between her and Dr. King were tense, as he, along with the other male members of SCLC, weren't too keen on taking direction from a woman. Ella resigned in 1960 to found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. (SNCC)
SNCC was inspired by the sit-ins at the Greensboro Lunch Counters, and focused on organizing passive resistance protests. She also lead drives to register voters, and helped form the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party--an alternative to the Democrat Party--which supported civil rights for African Americans.

Ella continued her work until her death in 1986. Though she is not well known today, her influence lives on. She played a major part in enfranchising African American voters, and planning the protests that helped end the Jim Crow Laws. Today the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights  carries on her work of ensuring equal rights for people of all races.



¹This word, while not acceptable in a modern context, was more or less acceptable in Ella's time period.

More on Similar Topics





Sources
Who Was Ella Baker
Ella Baker--Civil Rights Activist
Ella Baker--American Activist
Meet Ella Baker