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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ella Baker, September 4, 1974. Interview G-0007. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Factors leading to the formation of the SCLC and its early leadership

Baker continues to discuss the factors leading up to the formation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957, focusing on the events immediately preceding the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1954. In so doing, Baker explains the need for the SCLC and the people involved in its early conceptualization.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Ella Baker, September 4, 1974. Interview G-0007. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

EUGENE WALKER:
How was it that you moved into a position in the S.C.L.C.? What was the process involved there? The process there was that after the '54 decision, after the Montgomery boycott or simultaneous almost with it, the '54 decision precipitated certain kinds of repressive action against people who attempted to enroll their children in school. Two places in particular come to mind. One was Clarendon County, South Carolina and I think there was Yazoo, Mississippi where the black parents attempted to enroll, and certain repressive actions were taken against them. People who were tenant farmers for thirty or forty years no longer had anywhere to farm. Those who had a little business, they were boycotted; there were boycotts against them in terms of the delivery of goods and services. So, some of us here in New York including two or three ministers—one in particular, one black minister who is now dead that was Jim Robinson, the Reverend James H. Robinson, who was in the Presbyterian Church, Church of the Master, and he had been associated with the N.A.A.C.P. as a youth secretary—and Rabbi Weiss, I believe it was (anyway I have the list here); we organized. They were people who had prestige but some of the rest of us like Bayard, George Lawrence, Stanley Levinson of the American Jewish Congress, and some of the labor people, organized what was called "In Friendship." It's purpose was largely to provide some material and legal assistance as much as possible to such people as were being evicted from their tenant farms and households and other situations in Clarendon County and Yazoo and in other places. So out of that came the concept of an enlarged effort. You see, by that time you were running into… '54 was the decision. People were having their difficulties, say in '55, '56. Then came in that period the Montgomery boycott. And the boycott then moved on the scene as having involved a large number of people. So the question arises, where do you go from here? Also the question arose in respect to mass action—does the N.A.A.C.P. lend itself to mass action or will it initiate mass action or will it continue its program of legalism?
EUGENE WALKER:
Pardon me, but this is at the successful end of the Birmingham boycott?
ELLA BAKER:
Montgomery boycott.
EUGENE WALKER:
Montgomery boycott.
ELLA BAKER:
Yes, it had come at that period. So the question in some of our minds is that there was something there that should be continued, that you needed a force in the South that was comparable to the N.A.A.C.P. in some respects. Why? Because the N.A.A.C.P. in the minds of those of us who were concerned at that stage, primarily dealt with legal action. Although it had a program of branch action it had not organized mass action that le$nt itself to demonstrations. So, if you think in terms of something in the South for mass action you'd start with the group that had been involved in something. So there was Montgomery and in connection with Montgomery there were large numbers of black ministers, or a number of black ministers throughout the area who had identified with that struggle. For instance, C. K. Steele in Tallahassee, Florida and Abraham something or other in New Orleans…
EUGENE WALKER:
Yes, Jameson was in New Orleans.
ELLA BAKER:
Jameson had had a boycott of his own in Baton Rouge, you see. So what you do then, is stimulate thought of an organization in the South that can spread.