Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ella Baker, April 19, 1977. Interview G-0008. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Deaths of Baker's siblings affect her parents

Though Baker's mother gave birth to eight children, only three lived to adulthood. Baker reflects on her siblings and how those deaths affected her parents.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Ella Baker, April 19, 1977. Interview G-0008. 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

SUE THRASHER:
Were you the firstborn child?
ELLA BAKER:
Oh, no. I understand my mother gave birth to eight children, but there were only four that lived to the point of my knowledge. Whether they were born and lived a while or whether they were stillborn or just how many were in that state, I don't know. But there were four of us that I know of. There were three of us that lived to maturity, and there was one between me and my baby sister who died in infancy, I recall. This was the first death I knew of in the family. I remembered it in particular because my father was the only one who went to wherever the interment was taking place. And it was a carriage, and I was very eager to be in the carriage, but they didn't permit me to go.
SUE THRASHER:
Do you know how old you were at the time?
ELLA BAKER:
I probably was about three.
SUE THRASHER:
Small.
ELLA BAKER:
I was small at six. [Laughter] I didn't grow very fast. Whatever height I have came a little late.
SUE THRASHER:
Was the oldest child a boy or a girl?
ELLA BAKER:
The oldest child that lived to maturity was a boy. My brother was two years older than I. He was born on the twenty-third of December, and I was born on the thirteenth of December two years later.
SUE THRASHER:
What was the year of your birth?
ELLA BAKER:
I was born in 1903. I'm seventy-three years old. And my brother was born December 23, 1901.
SUE THRASHER:
What's his name?
ELLA BAKER:
His name was B. Curtis Baker. He used a "B"; it was Blake Curtis. My father was named Blake Baker.
CASEY HAYDEN:
What was your mother's given name?
ELLA BAKER:
Georgiana Ross Baker. And if you would hear her say it…. "My name is Georgiana Ross Baker." She was a very precise-spoken person.
SUE THRASHER:
Where did the Curtis…
ELLA BAKER:
Maybe the Curtis Publishing Company. I don't know. [Laughter] I have a hunch it had to do with the Curtis Publishing Company. I think they had the earlier magazine distributors. And of course my mother was a great reader, and also she may have been selling it. I don't know. But other than that, I don't know. I didn't bother to find out why he was named Curtis; that was his name. [Laughter]
SUE THRASHER:
And the third child, then, is the one that died very young. The child after you, the little girl.
ELLA BAKER:
No, the girl after me lived to maturity. It was the boy after me; that was Prince. My mother's family had several Princes in the family, and she was naming her baby after one of her first cousins, her mother's sister's son who was older than my mother. And so that was perhaps the reason, and as far as I know he was just Prince. And he died. I don't know whether he was even sitting up then; I don't know how old he was when he died. The next child was me, and after I came, if there were others I don't know of any. She may have had a miscarriage; I don't know. But the sister who survived and whom I know was about four years or more younger than I, and her name was Margaret, named after my father's mother. In fact, she was named Margaret, and then my brother thought she was so precious, he called her "Margaret Precious Odessa . Don't take all that, because if you do Maggie might decide to rise up from her tomb. [Laughter] We called her "Maggie."