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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 >>

Opposition of the NAACP to the SCLC's Crusade for Citizenship

Baker discusses reactions to the Crusade for Citizenship she sought to initiate upon the formation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. According to Baker, there was some opposition to the Crusade from the NAACP, as articulated by Roy Wilkins, because they had been pursuing similar work in voter registration and didn't want their work detracted from. In addition, she explains why Martin Luther King Jr. also had mixed feelings about the Crusade. Finally, Baker identifies A. Philip Randolph as a bridge between the two organizations during the SCLC's formative years.

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:
Miss Baker, your idea of Crusade for Citizen-ship did create somewhat of a furor. I'm mindful of the fact that you tried to get an advisory committee together for this thing and you sent names out to all of the big people just so they would lend their name to it; you weren't asking them to really give money but just to lend their name to it. You sent to the Rappaports; you even sent to Roy Wilkins and Mr. Wilkins subsequently declined but he recommended somebody from his group. Mr. said explicitly that he didn't want to be involved with this citizenship project because he was already on the board of the N.A.A.C.P. and they were engaged in similar action and he didn't want the N.A.A.C.P. to feel that he was encouraging another organization that was doing basically the same thing that they were doing. And beyond that there were reports in the New York Amsterdam News and one or two other papers that Wilkins was a little peeved at this kind of thing. They didn't state specifically what he said but they got the implication that he was peeved. Obviously Dr. King felt the same way because on a memo that he wrote to the executive board that he was going to try once more to try and get co-operation between his organization and the N.A.A.C.P… Can you shed any light on that situation for me or did you detect any kind of antagonism or friction or tension between the two groups at that time?
ELLA BAKER:
I think what you're faced with is a normal situation in the period, in the context of the period. Here was an organization, the N.A.A.C.P., which in 1950 was at least forty-one years old. I think it came into being in 1909. They had carried on certain kinds of programs. And here was an individual who had not had any real connection, hadn't grown up in the struggle. Martin had not, historically, been any part of the struggle. He was the son of a well-to-do minister and he was in search of a higher status in terms of education. I don't think there's any record of his being involved in any movement of any kind prior to that. So what do you have? Somebody could say, there's an upstart. And I guess these are the human factors. I'm sure there were strains. For instance, Roy would have to be sort of convinced, let's say to put it politely, to participate in such as the March on Washington, the famous march, and prior to that there were the 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage and there were a couple of marches involving students in terms of the question of school segregation. The mass action type thing like that, the N.A.A.C.P. at that stage had not been involved with. Naturally there was this sense of priority of right (let's call it). Who was the bridge between that? That was Philip Randolph. You look at the record. Never did they have a conference in terms of working out without Phil Randolph. Phil had the respect of both. Phil had articulated the concept of mass action and had attempted the thing that got called off.
EUGENE WALKER:
The March on Washington.
ELLA BAKER:
The March on Washington in the '40's. And Mrs. Roosevelt and Mayor LaGuardia—you know our good angels of the liberal angels—talked him out of it. But N.A.A.C.P. could not afford, Roy could not afford to absolutely turn thumbs down over the situation because they could have been left out in the cold, number one. Number two—their deep respect for Phil Randolph.
EUGENE WALKER:
He was certainly a monument in that whole scenario…
ELLA BAKER:
Certainly he was, yes.
EUGENE WALKER:
… because when you look at it he initiated the idea to go and talk to the president and he wanted to have a call-up meeting but he wanted a forum. Roy turned thumbs down on that idea; they didn't go along with him on that. Martin Luther was whole-heartedly in favor of it—having other leaders aside from themselves coming in to talk with the president. The Urban League and N.A.A.C.P. didn't think that would be the wisest thing at that time.
ELLA BAKER:
You see, they couldn't trust C.O.R.E. [Laughter] in their minds. What you have there is the division between those who have some respect for mass action and pressure and those who believe that your best results came from negotiations from the knowledgeable people. The negotions from the knowledgeable and the legal action were the N.A.A.C.P. and the Urban League.