Ella Baker Essay

This essay has a total of 1452 words and 7 pages.

Ella Baker


Ella Baker























Ella Josephine Baker was born in Virginia, and at the age of seven Ella Baker moved with
her family to Littleton, South Carolina, where they settled on her grandparent's farmland
her grandparents had worked as slaves. Ella Baker's early life was steeped in Southern
black culture. Her most vivid childhood memories were of the strong traditions of
self-help, mutual cooperation, and sharing of economic resources that encompassed her
entire community. Because there was no local secondary school, in 1918, when Ella was
fifteen years old, her parents sent her to Shaw boarding school in Raleigh, the high
school academy of Shaw University. Ella excelled academically at Shaw, graduating as
valedictorian of her college class from Shaw University in Raleigh in 1927.

After her graduation from Shaw University, Baker migrated to New York City on the eve of
the Great Depression, determined to find an outlet for her intellectual curiosity and
growing compassion for social justice. She was deeply moved by the terrible conditions she
witnessed on the streets of Harlem during the 1930s; scenes of poverty, hunger, and
desperation.

The first political organization she joined after moving to Harlem was the Young Negroes
Cooperative League (YNCL), founded by writer George Schuyler in December 1930. The
expressed purpose of the group was to gain economic power through consumer cooperation.
The YNCL was headquartered in New York City. In 1931 Baker was elected to serve as the
group's first national director. Another important experience that helped to shape Baker's
evolving political consciousness during the Depression was her employment with the Workers
Education Project (WEP) of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a program designed to
equip workers with basic literacy skills and to educate them about topics of concern to
members of the work force. During the 1930s, Baker also began to grapple with the issue of
women's equality and her own identity as an African-American woman. She supported and
worked with various women's groups, such as the Women's Day Workers and Industrial League,
a union for domestic workers; the Harlem Housewives Cooperative; and the Harlem YWCA.
Baker refused to be relegated to a separate "woman's sphere," either personally or
politically. She often participated, without reservation, in meetings where she was the
only woman present, and many of her closest political allies over the years were men.
Similarly, in her personal life Baker refused to comply with prevailing social norms about
women's place or women's behavior. When she married her longtime friend, T. J. Roberts, in
the late 1930s, the marriage was anything but conventional, which typified her rebellious
spirit. Baker never assumed her husband's name, an unusual act of independence in those
days. Also, even though she was married for over a decade, she never framed her identity
as a woman around that of her husband and apparently never allowed domestic obligations to
interfere with her principal passion, which was politics.

While in Harlem in the 1930s, Baker also worked as a reporter and editor for a variety of
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