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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 >>

Reasons for leaving the NAACP

Though Baker had enjoyed her work for the NAACP, she felt that the administrative leadership took advantage of her abilities without according her a similar level of recognition or respect. For this reason, she left her job after four and a half years.

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:
What year did you quit working for the NAA?
ELLA BAKER:
Forty-six. I only worked about four and a half years, '42 through '46. And at the point at which I quit, I was serving as Director of Branches. I quit to a large extent because…. You see, I wasn't ever asked if I wanted to be Director of Branches. It just happened that the Executive Secretary himself was trying to cover every…. There was no Branch Director. And I think certain members of the Board had gathered enough strength to bring it to pass. And he recognized this, and so he made a fast move and, I guess, appointed me Director of Branches, without even asking me. I was in Birmingham at the time. But then I came in and began to deal with such things as developing leadership training sessions or conferences and trying to deal with the whole matter of reducing the work of the NAACP to where the people who were supporting it could articulate it, too, and for dealing with some of the things that are right there in their own bailiwicks. Whereas, the first time I went up to Albany, New York, to do a campaign up there, among the things that surfaced was the fact that the blacks who graduated from high school were all in a C track or something like this. And the branch wasn't concerned about that, hadn't done anything at all about that. They were still hung up on the whole question of legal defense, like defending someone. In fact, they were always talking about the poor people down South. And so the question was, what do you do about the poor children right here? [Laughter] Things of that nature.
SUE THRASHER:
As director of the branches, you could work on that directly in your role, but how did you try to affect policy?
ELLA BAKER:
One of the first things was to…. I talked about it, and we had a good Branch Committee at that stage, who understood and who also had been irritated by the lack of real organization. And so we called the Leadership Training Conference—at least, got permission; had to get permission. The first one was held in New York, and then you'd have them in different regions. And these were primarily concerned with helping people who were serving on branch committees to understand what they could do. So you say you have a branch committee on education; what does it mean? You say you have one that was dealing with jobs; what are the facts? So you had a series of leadership training conferences. They kept them up, I think, for a while after I left. You'd go, and what you'd do is set it up and the usual thing. It was broken down into regions, and you would go in for two or three days and rap. So most of the rapping and the like, where you really let the people deal with some of the things. Because for a long time people looked upon the NAACP as the organization that would handle things, not the people handling them. I don't know how it stands now.
SUE THRASHER:
Did other staff people look upon it that way, in terms of the organization handling it rather than the people?
ELLA BAKER:
There were some, but as you increased the number of people who were a little younger…. And not so many of the older people were even objecting to it, but they had their pattern, the pattern of going out and holding a mass meeting and then having twenty or thirty minutes with the Board of Directors of a local branch. How much can you get really done in terms of organization? But that had been the pattern. They'd have a mass meeting and try to get as many memberships as possible and then have a meeting with the executive committee or board of the branch after the meeting.
CASEY HAYDEN:
So this was sort of an innovation, the training program that you developed at that time.
ELLA BAKER:
Yes, it was. Of course, I had to get permission for the first one. There was opposition to it, so it was held there in the…. We were at 14th and Fifth Avenue, the house where Joanne Grant lives or used to live in. But it wasn't that kind of a house; it was a loft building then. And there was a big room where all of the secretaries, which was not to their conveniences; secretarial and mimeographing and all of that was done. So we cleared the space there after we got permission and held the meeting. We broke them down into regions like Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland New Jersey. And the place was packed. Then impressive. People came; they wanted to. Had they not shown at that first meeting, that was it. [Laughter] But then we had them in Kansas City, Missouri, and somewhere in Texas and somewhere else. And I left there in '46 primarily because I knew that sooner or later Mr. White and I were going in.
SUE THRASHER:
He was the Director.
ELLA BAKER:
Yes, he was the top man, Walter White. You see, I don't worship individuals. I like people, but there was nobody I felt that you had to pay obeisance to three times a day or at night.