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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 >>

Helping found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

While working for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Baker helped organize the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She describes how she helped the students plan and organize their new group.

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:
One of the things Casey and I were talking about this afternoon that we were sort of interested in was the SNCC meeting in Raleigh and how that came about and how you…. It must appear in one of these papers as Charlotte.
ELLA BAKER:
No. See, Charlotte was one of the first of the groups that…. Charlie Jones was there.
SUE THRASHER:
At Charlotte.
ELLA BAKER:
Charlie Jones was a young minister, and he had big-time relationships there. And that was one of the places that had sat in. The meeting was called for the Faster holiday in '60. I had suggested it was very obvious that the manner in which these things were springing up…. There was no real coordination or even exchange taking place between the groups that were springing up. It was to a large extent, I called you and said, "How come your school sat in?" or something. I got a grant of about $800 SCLC was willing to put up, and I got in touch with the leadership of these different groups and got to writing them. And I wanted to have the conference in Greensboro, preferably at A and T. I didn't expect A and T to accept it anyway. But it was the Easter holiday, and Bennett had historically had a religious convocation of some sort, but they couldn't accommodate us. And so I knew A and T wouldn't, but I think made the call. I may not have even called them. So then I searched around. I knew a young dean at Shaw and a young minister, and they began to work on it for me, and we went there and had the conference. And I was hoping for not more than, say, a hundred and some of the "leadership" of the sit-ins as as we had culled it from the newspapers and so forth. And so it ended up about three hundred or more people. I've got the list; I don't know from the North, and white schools we had.
CASEY HAYDEN:
Was it pretty much, in terms of the southern students, black students who were involved, pretty much names from the papers, and someone someone else knew and…
ELLA BAKER:
Sure.
CASEY HAYDEN:
What about the students in the Greensboro situation? What was their contact with the organizations? Had some of them had some CORE training?
ELLA BAKER:
No, the first students who sat in hadn't had so much CORE training as sort of indoctrination. The young pharmacist that they had been talking with, a local person, had had some knowledge about the CORE technique, and this was the basis.
CASEY HAYDEN:
Were you involved at all with the formation of CORE?
ELLA BAKER:
No, I wasn't, but I knew CORE people. I never thought too much of my capacity for passive resistance.
CASEY HAYDEN:
That wasn't exactly your orientation.
ELLA BAKER:
No. They at least emphasized the need for sort of a passive resistance reaction, but it didn't always work out that way.
CASEY HAYDEN:
Then the next SNCC meeting was the Atlanta meeting.
ELLA BAKER:
Yes, it was, but what we had to do…. SNCC had not been formed. These were people who were called together in their leadership roles or whatever delegated roles they chose. And they came, and the only couple of things that I suggested be done were that the southern students have a chance to think through their own problems, and that the other people…. The northern students were much more articulate and terribly sophisticated in phraseology if not ideology. But they were to avoid the business of saying you reject it. There was a small group of students and myself and the Rev. Jim Lawson. And it was in this kind of context and some of the northern students. And there was a schedule worked out in terms of when they would meet and when they wouldn't meet together. And so the southern students began the process of beginning to know each other and to organization. And if you read Jim Foreman's book where he points out that the hierarchy, the Reverend and the others were then eager to see to it that this became a part of SCLC. And I refused to be a party to it and said that the students had a right to make their decision as to what they wanted to be. When went down, they had decided that they would be a student—unaffiliated at that stage—group, and that they would move towards meeting…. They elected representatives from each of the larger delegations to come to Atlanta once, I think, or at least a couple of months during the summer. They didn't object to coming together, but in the fall there was then by that time a desire for a conference. Jane Stemblidge, who was at the Union Theological Seminary, and I didn't even see her at the Raleigh meeting, Fred Shuttlesworth had run into her, and he told me about her. And I got in touch with her. He had told me that she said she would like to work… [END OF TAPE 2, SIDE B] [TAPE 2, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 3, SIDE A]
SUE THRASHER:
So you and Jane worked all Fourth of July weekend, preparing things for Bernard and Marion.
ELLA BAKER:
Yes. There was a basic statement, similar to what organizations take to these conventions. And preparing them not only to give them a copy for themselves, but several copies (I don't know how many). And they went by coach train from Atlanta. I don't know how they ever got to California by train [Laughter] , but they worked that out anyhow. And they went to California, and I think the Democrats were in California, and the Republicans were in Chicago, I believe, that year. Or it may have been vice versa. But they covered both of them. One was shortly after the other. And then they came back. Jane Stemblidge was there, and so she stayed on to work towards an October meeting. And Jane knew how to work. And so the conference was called in October, and out of that came a furtherance of the concept of having representatives from these groups designated by the students. And out of that came eventually the setting up of an office in Atlanta.
SUE THRASHER:
Were you on the SCLC staff while this was all going on, while SNCC was being organized?
ELLA BAKER:
I was leaving in August. I was going to leave anyway, because I knew we couldn't stay there together. And Clyde Walker was coming in. It had been determined that he would come in, and that's why they were so solicitous about trying to capture the student group. So as far as payroll, I think I may have left it even before August, but certainly in August. I had met Rosetta Gardner and some others, and she suggested the potential of this thing at the YWCA, which turned out to be a special project, which perhaps you . Was it you?
CASEY HAYDEN:
Yes.
ELLA BAKER:
And who else?
CASEY HAYDEN:
Mary and Bobby Yancey.
ELLA BAKER:
Was it Bobby Yancey and you?
CASEY HAYDEN:
I think it was just me, and then when Mary came on Bobby and Mary shared the job.
ELLA BAKER:
Yes, that's right. And you were the first, by yourself. I didn't know you.
CASEY HAYDEN:
No, I don't think we had met then. I think we met, actually, at the Atlanta conference.