Laying the Groundwork for Freedom: Septima Clark and Ella BakerJeff KolnickTAH/JPSHamer InstituteJune 2012
Assessment Questions How did Clark and Baker contribute to the idea of participatory democracy? In what ways were Clark’s and Baker’s leadership feminist and how might this help explain their absence from popular discussions of civil rights leadership?
Septima Clark and EllaBaker December 13, 1903 –May 3, 1898–December 15, 1987 December 13, 1986
Working to educate and organize and not for the spotlight “You didn’t see me You always have to get the on television, you people with you. You can’t force them into didn’t see news things….When I went into stories about me. Mississippi and Alabama I The kind of role that stayed behind the scene and I tried to play was to tried to get the people in pick up pieces or put town to push forward, and together pieces out then I would come forth with of which I hoped ideas. But I wouldn’t do it at organization might first because I knew it was detrimental….The people in come. My theory is, the masses, though, do strong people don’t better than teachers. They need strong come out. They’re willing to leaders.” fight anyhow. Ella Baker Septima Clark
Building a Grassroots Network of Leaders Mrs. Clark and Mrs. Baker represent a tradition of grassroots leadership that in many respects explains the success and significance of the Civil Rights movement. By 1965, movement activity had spread into all regions of the south. In hundreds of local communities, rural and urban, deep south and upper south, local leaders had emerged who were not afraid and where empowered with new confidence and tools. In their own ways, these women were catalysts in developing a strong network of leaders among the masses of black folk throughout the south and they did this over the course of many years. Their leadership was characteristic of women’s leadership: what Joanne Grant called a “group-centered leadership rather than a leadership-centered group.’ Or what Barbara Ransby called “a radical democratic vision” that without being explicitly feminist, was unable to accommodate any form of discrimination that limited participation in the movement for any reason other than a
Characteristics of Women’s Leadership Non-Hierarchical and egalitarian Network Centered Institution Builders and transformers Religiously and culturally based A focus on adult education, empowerment, and leadership development Working at the intersections of
Political Socialization Direct links to slavery , Clark’s father and Baker’s grandparents: Clark learned to work with everyone and Baker to challenge authority Mothers: Clark to never back down and Baker to always care for the community Fathers: Clark to maintain a sense of who you are and Baker a pride in heritage and to have some fun in life Both came from families that deeply valued education and were connected to their communities on many levels Both lived within a community that was close and connected Both had “unconventional marriages” and a lot of
Education to Serve Septima Clark Ella Baker High School Graduate , Grammar school Charleston, SC, 1916 graduate and an extra 1942 BA, Columbia University year to prepare for 1945, MA Hampton college Institute 1918-1927 Shaw Worked with DuBois at Atlanta University Academy and Shaw 1954, Highlander University, workshops Valedictorian of both Elected to Charleston high school and School Board in 1976 college and served two terms
“Postgraduate training:” Clark and Equalization Pay inequity Work Load Access to Charleston schools as teachers and principals Joined NAACP in 1919 in Charleston and achieved goals in 1920 after door to door campaign and gaining 10,000 signatures for a petition Started adult education/literacy in 1935 for WWI Veterans Dismissed in 1955 for refusing to renounce her membership in the NAACP Worked with State NAACP and Thurgood Marshall starting in 1935 for pay equity. In 1976 she is awarded back pay and pension benefits.
“Postgraduate training:” Ella Baker, the 30s, and NYC 137th Street YWCA and important friendships: Dorothy Height and Pauli Murray NAACP Harlem Branch Library Socialists, Communists, Organized Labor, UNIA The Young Negroes’ Cooperative League Worker’s Education Project (WPA): 1,000 teachers helping workers gain “a more intelligent understanding of the social and political economy of which he is a part.”
Mrs. Clark and the Power of Literacy Mrs. Clark and the NAACP On to Highlander, 1956 First Citizenship School on John’s Island, 1957 “All over the Deep South”: Citizenship School Program transferred to SCLC in 1961 and called the Voter Education Project 1962 There were 897 Citizenship schools from 1957-1970 There were 195 going on in 1964 alone Some 10,000 teachers were trained Mrs. Clark traveled 11 Southern states conducting and supervising schools Impact Empowering thousands of local leaders with new tools Overcoming fear Networking with leaders throughout the south and ending isolation Empowering hundreds of thousands with literacy and the vote
Frederick Douglass on Literacy I was now about twelve years old, and the thought of being a slave for life began to bear heavily upon my heart. Just about this time, I got hold of a book entitled "The Columbian Orator." Every opportunity I got, I used to read this book. In the same book, I met with one of Sheridans mighty speeches on and in behalf of Catholic emancipation. These were choice documents to me. I read them over and over again with unabated interest. They gave tongue to interesting thoughts of my own soul, which had frequently flashed through my mind, and died away for want of utterance. The reading of these documents enabled me to utter my thoughts, and to meet the arguments brought forward to sustain slavery; but while they relieved me of one difficulty, they brought on another even more painful than the one of which I was relieved. The more I read, the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers. I could regard them in no other light than a band of successful robbers, who had left their homes, and gone to Africa, and stolen us from our homes, and in a strange land reduced us to slavery. I loathed them as being the meanest as well as the most wicked of men.
Building the Network: Mrs. Baker and the Power of Organizing Field Secretary for the NAACP, 1940-43 Director of Branches, 1943-46 President of the NYC NAACP Founder of In Frienship, 1956 First Executive Director of SCLC, 1957 Staff member for SCEF Staff, 1963 Adult Advisor of SNCC, 1960 MFDP Washington office, 1964 Impact Extensive network Leadership development Overcoming fear Coalition and institution building
Oral History Demonstration with Dr. Leslie Burl McLemore
Discussion What are the unique causes that can explain the relative obscurity of A Philip Randolph, Pauli Murray, Septima Clark, and Ella Baker? What are the common causes that can explain the relative obscurity of A Philip Randolph, Pauli Murray, Septima Clark, and Ella Baker?
Resources http://blackhistory.50webs.com/septimaclark.html Katherine Mellen Charrons Freedom’s Teacher: The Life of Septima Clark Septima Clark and Cynthia Stokes Brown, Ready from Within Vicki Crawfrod et all, Women in the Civil Rights Movement Joanne Grant, Ella Baker: Freedom Bound Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement