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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 >>

Experiences as a woman working for the NAACP

As Baker became increasingly active with the NAACP, she began to take on responsibilities that very few women held. She and Thrasher discuss the challenges and limitations placed on women in the organization and how Baker worked to overcome them.

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:
Did the NAACP have very many women on the staff as travellers?
ELLA BAKER:
Not that kind of traveller. [Laughter] When I went there, Daisy Lampton had charge of campaigns. She taught you how to set up a campaign; you'd go out with her. And I don't think there was any other woman on the staff who went out to do campaigns. And there was a young man who was there. Dean Pickens had left—had been dropped, I suppose—as head of what was called the Branch Department. And so eventually, because of the fact that there was nobody, I became head of the Branch Department. In fact, I don't think it was the choice of the Executive Secretary, but it was the result of certain persons who were on the Board like Hubert Delaney (he was a judge at that time) and Bill Hasting. He had quite a record; he died playing golf the summer before last. But they were talking in terms of a need for expansion, developing the Branch Department into a more activist kind of a group where the branches would take positions and take the lead in doing certain things. One of the big drives, which was a normal sort of thing that would take place in an organization that depended upon mass support, would be interested in getting the largest number of people into the membership, because they didn't have subsidy. They've had some subsidy since then, a grant for special kinds of things. But then the NAACP didn't get any public money or any chance of getting any . Because it had handled cases that were much too hot like the Grounds Grove and situation and things like that.
SUE THRASHER:
Did you have any difficulty in that job because you were a woman?
ELLA BAKER:
Like what?
SUE THRASHER:
When you would go into Birmingham, Alabama, for instance, to work with the local chapter.
ELLA BAKER:
Difficulty in terms of relating to them?
SUE THRASHER:
Were the men in the community the leaders, and would they accept you?
ELLA BAKER:
No, I didn't have any difficulty. I think maybe a couple of things were positive assets for me. One is, as I told you, I had grown up playing baseball, and my man-woman relationships were on the basis of just being a human being, not a sex object. As far as my sense of security, it had been established. And also, I guess, my ego; I had been able to compete on levels such as scholarship, without attempting to. And I could stand my own in debate. And things of that nature. I wasn't delicate, to put it . And I was very much interested in people, which was an asset that could serve me well because it could also break through whatever class lines had been either established or that were tenously there, which frequently surfaced. There were certain people in the community that didn't think too much of certain other people. For instance, there were times when an incident like, I'll call it, the town drunk might be arrested and beaten up. Well, that didn't matter. But part of the message that we were carrying was that it did matter, because to the extent that he was demeaned, your rights were therefore decreased, or something to that effect. It was a period in which there was kind of a new surge of identity among some of the people who were not class people, but who recognized that there were inevitable links between those who had and those who had not, because any black could be subject to the same treatment.
SUE THRASHER:
Were the women ever jealous of you, in the sense of wanting to be as independent as you were?
ELLA BAKER:
I don't know. Maybe there might have been some, but since I wasn't competitive…. I didn't gloat. I was just doing what came naturally, as far as I was concerned, and since I was the missionary type—I was on a crusade to save something [Laughter] —and since I wasn't the glamorous type in terms of being very much concerned about trying to win friends among the guys, I wasn't competitive. I guess if they were, it didn't surface too much.