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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 >>

Professional relationship with Martin Luther King Jr.

Baker briefly reflects on some of the tension she had in her professional relationship with Martin Luther King Jr. According to Baker, King was not overly receptive to some of her ideas. Baker argues that like many of the other leading ministers in the SCLC, King "wasn't good at receiving critical questions."

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

Can you describe your relationship with Dr. King for me? What kind of a relationship did you have while you were working as the person in charge of the citizenship project, as one who served as associate director and as one who served as acting director?
ELLA BAKER:
At the initial stages, practically no relationship. He was not relating to the situation too well (let's put it that way). They were still living in Montgomery; he would come to Atlanta and I would never see him.
EUGENE WALKER:
He was the president of the organization.
ELLA BAKER:
Yes, he was.
EUGENE WALKER:
Who did you relate to?
ELLA BAKER:
Who was helpful?
EUGENE WALKER:
Right. And who suggested to you what your roll should be in the organization?
ELLA BAKER:
No one. No one had suggested to me because the background for conceptualizing it was not there in terms of the top leadership. They had this idea of having these meetings; that's where it stopped. Then, what does it take to get those meetings? I think to a large extent Martin was depending on Bayard. The last couple of days before the meeting took place, Bayard came down. But you see he didn't need to come down then. He was supossed to be the top strategist.
EUGENE WALKER:
As a matter of fact, you and Bayard are designated as co-directors of the Citizenship Crusade, on the letterheads of all the papers.
ELLA BAKER:
Yes. That's the way it goes. From the standpoint of my relationshp with Martin, it was almost mutual color in a certain sense. I didn't go there in the beginning with any hope or any expectation of being a key figure and recognized as such. It was another one of those efforts that I felt: alright, things have to be done. I was in a position to do them and hopefully it would be part and parcel to the contribution of running things. Maybe from Martin's standpoint… well, you have to tolerate what you have to tolerate; I don't know. I have heard in later years that he felt—I don't know whether he said it to someone else—I hated him or disliked him, something like that. Martin wasn't good at receiving critical questions. He was not alone; as I said, this was a pattern with ministers. After all, who was I? I was female; I was old. I didn't have any Ph. D… An interesting angle: there was a news conference held, a little gathering of some N.A.A.C.P. officials and S.C.L.C. officials in connection with some voter registration program. Roy Wilkins and (I think) Bob Carter came down. Then, of course, there was Martin and then there was the news conference. I remember, I believe it was Ralph who said to me, he wouldn't have let himself be ignored in this situation or rolled in it. He knew I knew more about the history of voter registration and what had taken place in the struggle than they did. I was at least as familiar with all the things that the N.A.A.C.P. had done historically. Martin didn't have that historical information at his finger and he had not been active in getting around in that current period. But it didn't bother me. Maybe it should have; I don't know.