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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 >>

Marriage and guardianship of niece

After leaving the NAACP, Baker's personal life changed as she married and took over the guardianship of her niece. Though she resists answering many personal questions, she does briefly describe how she balanced her interest in having a career with these new demands on her time.

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:
So when you left the NAACP in '46, did you go directly to another job at that point?
ELLA BAKER:
No, I don't think I went directly. By that time, I was raising Jackie, my niece.
SUE THRASHER:
Was she your sister's daughter?
ELLA BAKER:
Yes, she's my sister's daughter. My sister wasn't going to be very responsible anyway.
SUE THRASHER:
But your sister was still living.
ELLA BAKER:
She was still living then, but Jackie was at home. Papa and Mama took the baby. And when Papa died…. Papa had wanted us to have it earlier, but the other "sister" (my cousin whom my mother raised, and with whom I stayed here) had passed. Martha would have been the ideal one in terms of the and sewing sort of things for her. So she came to live with me. She didn't come in '46, though. She didn't come right away, I don't think.
SUE THRASHER:
How old was she when she came to live with you?
ELLA BAKER:
Seven or eight.
SUE THRASHER:
So you had a small child from then on in.
ELLA BAKER:
Yes. I had to stop at that point, because she started in school. I had her in a little private school up on Edgecombe and Convent Avenue. It was a little Lutheran school, because she wasn't prepared for this kind of mass that they had in these schools, the unruliness of it. She'd gone to school in a small town kind of school. The teachers lived with Mama, and all the teachers knew Mama [Laughter] and all of that kind of thing.
SUE THRASHER:
Did that change your lifestyle drastically then, to have an eight-year-old?
ELLA BAKER:
Not to the point of not having meetings. [Laughter]
SUE THRASHER:
Aren't you glad. [Laughter]
ELLA BAKER:
It didn't change it that much. By that time I also had a domestic relationship, and so two things. And then next door was the woman who had paid me my first quarter for work. [Laughter] She was the sister of one of my uncle's wives. My mother's brother. The country pattern of some boy staying at home. Everybody leaves home, but some one will stay there to keep the farm and so forth going. And Uncle Luke was the one who stayed. He married and stayed with Grandma until he had a couple of children, and then he built his house across the road. So when Jackie came up to stay with me, I was working. I had the Cancer Committee I carried a couple of years, the Harlem branch of the New York City Cancer Committee. And something else; you know, you do whatever you do. But when Jackie went to the School on the Hill, the bus carried her and would bring her back. And we could depend on Miss Lena being there to look out the window at the right time, and then she'd go upstairs to her place and be fed. And when I'd come home, she was there. She had two years, I guess, in the junior high. We lived at 133rd and St. Nicholas, and she went to school up at the Harriet Beecher Stowe School there at 135th at St. Nicholas and Edgecombe Avenue. That was two blocks for her to walk home, and if I wasn't or Bob wasn't home, she would go to Miss Lena's. In fact, she went to Miss Lena's regularly, because I frequently had night meetings. But I usually came home and had dinner and things like that. Then she went to High School.
SUE THRASHER:
You said you had a domestic relationship. Did you get married during that time?
ELLA BAKER:
Yes, I got married.
SUE THRASHER:
What did your husband do?
ELLA BAKER:
At the point at which we married, he was still running on the road. He had been in school. And then he was in the refrigeration business.
SUE THRASHER:
Did that mean that you didn't have to work for that period of time when you were raising Jackie?
ELLA BAKER:
No. Don't ask too many personal questions now. [Laughter] That has nothing to do with my . [Laughter]
SUE THRASHER:
That has nothing to do with the issues. [Laughter]
ELLA BAKER:
No, it did not mean…. One could have survived on it, but I had too many responsibilities. And I still was doing things at home. My mother was still living. And so we just carried on that way.