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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 >>

Involvement in Harlem's school desegregation

In the 1950s, Baker became involved in education activism, beginning in New York City with a group called Parents in Action that tried to bring together African American and Puerto Rican parents in Harlem.

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 was the organization that you worked for then around school integration? Did that start in the early fifties?
ELLA BAKER:
We created that. That started right after the Supreme Court decision, the Brown decision. And by that time I think I was President of the New York branch of the NAACP. When this developed, there was the need for something around for community action. And among other things we did was to have a meeting up at Hastings-on-Hudson. Kenneth Clarke and Hubert Delaney and others and others and others, and then out of it came a sort of a city-wide committee. There had been other similar types of meetings before over in Brooklyn. I don't know whether you ever heard the name of Annie Stein; that's where I first met her. She was working with the Rev. Milton Galamason. And Annie was living in Brooklyn. And then the larger committee was organized here in New York City, and it expanded into various kinds of activity. And at the point when I went South, they were able then to carry on a whole lot of things. The summer of '57 I spent the…. What we called Parents in Action. That was an effort to bring together the black and Puerto Rican parents. We started here in the Harlem community and had some meetings in…. Of course, Brooklyn was under direction anyway, and then up in the Bronx, to bring them together to get them to understand what they were up against, how they could deal with it. Because at one point I've seen parents go into the school office, and the people would ignore them completely. Because you didn't have very many black teachers even in the school systems. And so that was part of…. That whole summer of '57, that was being done. I wasn't getting anything for that. I guess that's when the mister was taking care of us. [Laughter]
SUE THRASHER:
Was it through your activity in that group that you got drafted to go south?
ELLA BAKER:
I guess that could be a part of it, but I had been south before in '40 and '42. From '42 to '46, for the NAACP, I used to start in Florida and work all the way up. Once I started in February and got back to New York in June, the first time. They'll only come to somebody crazy, you know. [Laughter]
SUE THRASHER:
You didn't know that it was going to get worse in the sixties. [Laughter]
ELLA BAKER:
Well, by that time I was addicted. [Laughter] Every year, an addict, you know. [Laughter]
SUE THRASHER:
A civil junkie's right here. [Laughter]
ELLA BAKER:
You really don't even know. You think you're normal, and…. [Laughter] Thank goodness the way the world goes.