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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ella Baker, April 19, 1977. Interview G-0008. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The adults in Baker's life

As a child, Baker related well to adults. She tells a story about the "Black Money King" and then describes her relationship with her grandfather.

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:
Is there any particular story that you remember about living in Norfolk when you were small and growing up?
ELLA BAKER:
Sure, several of them. I was the talker. The doctor who became our family doctor, I must have run across him, swinging on the gate while he was passing by. I'd speak to people. And so when I had typhoid fever, he became the doctor. In fact, he became our family doctor to whom we went back after we left Norfolk if we felt in need of good medical attention. One of my pet stories had to do with a gentleman who was called the "Black Money King," who lived down the street from us. He was a very proud and very well groomed man, sharp features. I guess he struck me as a Zulu might, a strong, tall type. They had the pattern that at the evening or afternoon, they would take the clothes you'd been playing in, put on clean clothes, and you'd sit out on the porch. Some children would go play somewhere, but we couldn't get out of the yard by order of Queen Anne. [Laughter] So he passed by one day after my grandfather died. He very much had the image of my grandfather as I saw it. Of course he was tall, very black, and very precise. So I asked him if he would be my godfather. He answered and wanted to know why. I said, "Because you're so nice and black, like my grandfather." And he agreed, but of course it turned out that he was a Presbyterian. And my mother, who was a very positive lady, did not think that her father would rest well in his grave if his children or his grandchildren became anything else but Baptists. So that was that.
SUE THRASHER:
Do you remember going to your grandfather's church and hearing him preach?
ELLA BAKER:
I didn't go to hear him preach; I went to sit in a chair with him. He called me "Grand Lady."
SUE THRASHER:
Up front you got to sit with him.
ELLA BAKER:
I think he did it; I didn't. [Laughter] He called me "Grand Lady," largely because I was much more free to go with him than my brother. My brother would stay with Mama more. He was older than I. But Grandpa would hitch his horse to the buggy, and I'd go wherever he was going with him. I don't know why he called me "Grand Lady," but that's what he called me. And we would just talk. But when he'd go to church—which irritated my mother; in retrospect I of course—he would let me sit in…. In the front of the churches, there is a large chair in the center, two small ones on the side. On the pulpit there are these three major chairs. And when he would get up to do whatever he was doing, I would still be sitting in the seat, and I was a very short little one. So [Laughter] it irritated my mother, primarily, I think, because in country churches, especially when young ministers are trying to get ahead, they tend to want to be on the pulpit. And she didn't see any reason why I should be occupying the chair [Laughter] while they were trying to find somewhere to sit on, a side chair somewhere else.
SUE THRASHER:
Were you your grandfather's favorite?
ELLA BAKER:
I don't know that, but I do know that the short span of our existence…. We'd come up for the summer. He had had other grand children, because my mother had an older brother with a lot of children, but his children were in Norfolk. But at home there was the aunt who had fourteen children—I have some of them up there now—but I happened to have been the kind who liked to talk. I was a talker. And he liked it, I suppose. So I wouldn't know that I was his favorite, but I would ride around with him a lot.
SUE THRASHER:
How old were you when he died?
ELLA BAKER:
About six.
SUE THRASHER:
And this would be in the summers when you would come down from Norfolk.
ELLA BAKER:
My mother and the children would go from Norfolk to North Carolina say, in the beginning of June, because we weren't in school until later, and stay throughout the summer months, and come back maybe about September.