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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 >>

Becoming involved with the NAACP

Baker became involved with the NAACP in the early 1940s. Her first assignment sent her to Birmingham, and she discusses the racist practices of the industries around there.

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:
And how did you get from there to working with the NAACP?
ELLA BAKER:
Oh, out of necessity and the contact…
SUE THRASHER:
One paid and one didn't?
ELLA BAKER:
Yes, well, what happened was, I didn't get to the NAACP till '42, I believe. And George Schuyler was helpful there. He had been helping out with the Crisis magazine, and he knew that they wanted somebody, supposedly for a youth person. I had some qualms about my being it, and anyhow I went down. You don't shortchange a friend, you know; if somebody makes an effort for you, you go down. So they were impressed enough to not want me for the youth. [Laughter] I think they were about to put on somebody to expand the branch department, or those who were in the field, so I became one of their assistant field secretaries. And I started working. I went to Washington, where a campaign was being conducted by the chief campaign conductor (who was then a Mrs. Daisy Lampton out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). And from there I went to Birmingham, Alabama, and that was my beginning with the southern lifestyle. [Laughter]
SUE THRASHER:
This was 1946 or '42?
ELLA BAKER:
Somewhere in '42.
SUE THRASHER:
This was during the War.
ELLA BAKER:
Yes, I think it was '42. Many of the branches in the South (we didn't have as many then as you have now, or as you had when I was there) were headed by professionals. In Birmingham at the time it was a doctor who headed the branch. They were good people; they weren't class people. And in Mobile it was a post office employee who literally, singlehandedly in many ways, combated the racial prejudices. I worked with him, after I joined the staff during the War, when the shipyards around there…. The old pattern of not hiring blacks, and then if they ever hired any, when it was very, very hot they'd put them out wherever it was hottest. If it was in the hold, you'd keep them in the hold to work. And when it was cold, then you'd put them outside to work. And during that period from '42 till '46 when I left, you had gone through some things in connection with the expansion of the CIO, attempts to expand itself in places like Mobile. So that's the kind of thing that you get involved with.