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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 >>

Shaw prepares Baker for her later activism

Several of Shaw's professors became important influences in Baker's life, giving her confidence in her abilities and challenging assumptions she had held until that point.

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:
Was it set up by the white northern church to keep white schools from being integrated? It wasn't a missionary school.
ELLA BAKER:
No.
SUE THRASHER:
It was a black school.
ELLA BAKER:
It was one of the oldest of schools for blacks. Those of the northerners who had fought in the Civil War and who came back and became a factor in establishing schools for blacks. So Shaw is one of the older of schools to be started. At one stage it had professional schools like medicine, which of course carried with it dentistry and pharmacy, and law. But by the time I got there, they no longer were able to carry those facilities. But they still were supported, I suppose, more or less, by the northern Baptists. And the top echelon were white. The President was white. The Dean of the College, however, was black. And then many of the teachers were what people would call old maid types, but to a large extent could thoroughly teach us. The English teacher whom I had through college was Benjamin Frawley. He was the one who said to me not to let anyone teach me public speaking because it might spoil me.
SUE THRASHER:
Who was the sociology teacher that you had at Shaw that influenced you so. That wasn't Frawley, was it?
ELLA BAKER:
No, that was Dean Turner. I don't know his first name. He was kind of unusual in the sense that…. Such things as hair. The question of "good hair" has been frequently brought up, not only by blacks but about blacks. Of course, now everybody that has the same kind of hair. They'll go pay for it, I guess. [Laughter] He was not very polished in manner in some ways. He said, "Good hair. talk about good hair. Everybody's got good hair. All hair is good. It covers your head." [Laughter] When I first saw this pointedly was when I was with WPA. There was a young man who worked this education project who had all of his hair. His hair was just as clean some scalp conditioner. And it demonstrates it; all hair was good. [Laughter]