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 >>

Thoughts on challenges facing interracial marriages

After working for the Workers' Education Project, Baker became involved in the Cooperative League, an alliance of cooperative businesses. While there, she befriended George and Josephine Schuyler, an interracial couple, which leads her to reflect on the challenges facing interracial marriages during the 1930s.

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

So I got a little three-room place at 133rd and St. Nicholas Avenue. right across from the park. The park then was the kind of place that people could sleep in at night. I never tried it, but…. And it was well kept. And it was close to the subway. I've always lived where transportation is. I moved there in '36. I didn't start working for the NAACP till '41.
SUE THRASHER:
In between that time you were working with the Cooperative League.
ELLA BAKER:
Some, yes.
SUE THRASHER:
Did you ever work fulltime with them?
ELLA BAKER:
Yes, fulltime in a sense. George Schuyler, who used to write for the Pittsburgh Courier and is considered by many now as the reactionary, was one of the bright writers in black newspapers, as considered by young people especially. Because he would raise questions that weren't being raised. Also he was H. L. Mencken's black writer. He was basically an iconoclast, and that fitted in with Mencken, and perhaps he was in the American Mercury more than any other black. How did we meet? At this forum that used to meet at the YMCA, certainly every two weeks if not weekly. On a couple of occasions I had seen, and then later met, a person by the name of Mr. L. F. Coles, who was a newspaperman who worked with the Afro-American, in fact sort of freelancing around. He was an interesting and provocative type in terms of talking, and he wanted to introduce me to this , and so I went up. George and Josephine—she was white, from Texas—hadn't been married too long, and the antipathy that black women had towards white women who married their black men was really at its peak then. And so she had not been "well received" by the wives of those who were George's compatriots. Because they'd had that magazine that A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen and so forth established; what was it called?
SUE THRASHER:
Not the one called The Messenger?
ELLA BAKER:
It could be. I don't know. I don't think it was. We'll correct it somewhere down the road. So he was writing in that, and Josephine was out on the West Coast as an artist. She was living with an artist. And she came here and she met him, and she decided to keep on meeting him, and they married . And by the time I came along, she was here but she didn't have many friends among the black community, the black women. And so this chap carried me up there to meet them, and she and I became good friends. When the baby was born George was away, and I stayed with her until she was out of bed. She believed in staying in bed, the old-fashioned type of thing. And so we became more or less friends. And you picked up a lot of kinds of thinking that you hadn't had before, and insights. And a lot of people would come up there, those who wrote. Some people who were abroad. I was trying to think of a black guy whom many blacks would have known, who was in England at the time. You had access to people you wouldn't have been meeting, and that was always food for me. I didn't care so much about the socializing as the exchange of ideas, or at least being exposed to debate on the part of those who had concepts that were , and they would strongly defend their position.
SUE THRASHER:
Was the Cooperative League a local organization?
ELLA BAKER:
Yes. The Cooperative League of America had had some Eastern Cooperative League offices here. George, among the other things, had written about the virtue of blacks having cooperatives as over against competitive businesses. He had a couple of columns called something to the effect of "Negroes in the Barrel" or something like that. Out of it, we called for a meeting of young people for formation of the Young Negroes' Cooperative League. And so that was organized. The initial meeting was held in Washington, D.C., and then the next meeting was held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And we had an office there on Seventh Avenue somewhere in the Thirties, I think about 38th Street and Seventh Avenue. And I was the "executive secretary" or whatever.
SUE THRASHER:
For how many years?
ELLA BAKER:
A couple of years. You know, nothing lasts for me. [Laughter]