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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Julian Bond, November 1 and 22, 1999. Interview R-0345. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer exemplified SNCC's democratic mission

Bond explains how Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer epitomized SNCC's democratic mission. Baker's consensus-making and Hamer's undereducated background demonstrated that everyone could participate in the civil rights movement on an equal basis.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Julian Bond, November 1 and 22, 1999. Interview R-0345. 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

You mentioned earlier Ella Baker. Could you talk about your interactions with her and the influence she had?
Well, I met Miss Baker at the Raleigh Conference on Easter weekend in 1960 when SNCC was founded and remained impressed with her from that day until she died. She was always Miss Baker. Now Mary got to know her well enough to call her Ella. But I would have never called her Ella. She was not the kind of person I would call Ella. I would call her Miss Baker. She always wore suits, and she was well in her middle age when I met her. So she was not somebody you joked or laughed around with. She was right on the edge of being stern. But she was never harsh. She always searched for consensus. She never said, "Do this." But she always was able to pose questions to you that made you think about alternative ways and end up with a solution that involved some kind of democratic process involving everybody. So that if four or five of us were sitting here, she would ask what everybody thinks. What's best and have some discussion about it. She wouldn't tolerate someone coming in and saying, "Okay, here's what we're going to do." It had to be talked out among us all. It took us forever to make decisions. But when we made them, you had the feeling that everyone had had their say. It might not be the decision you wanted, but at least you got to say something about it, to argue your point of view and that was the way we thought it best operate. That you couldn't fight for democracy without being democratic. You had your method and your goals had to be the same.
Would she be at many of the SNCC meetings?
Oh yes. She was an adult advisor. She would be at many of the meetings. She was a constant presence at our office. She worked for a brief period for SCLC. So she was in Atlanta. Then when she left and went back to New York, she would come down for a meeting, especially the big conferences. When we got all the staff together, she would come down. Again she never dominated the meetings. She never said, "Listen, here's what we're going to do." She never said that. She always found a way to get the sense of what the group wanted to do. She was just great.
I understand now more why she disagreed with Martin Luther King a lot. Another woman I was going to ask you about is Fannie Lou Hamer and your interactions with her and when you first met her.
Well, Ms. Hamer was uneducated, sixth-grade education. But she was a forceful personality on the platform. She sang. She led freedom songs. She didn't have a perfect voice, but she could make you want to sing, make you want to join with her. Unlike Miss Baker, Ms. Hamer came right off the plantation. So when she's speaking, she's talking from personal experience, the way she's known, the life she's lived. In working with other people off the plantation or on the plantation, she's in effect saying to them, "I'm like you. Whatever you've experienced, I've experienced it too. Whatever life you've known, I've known that life too. So I'm not asking you to do something I haven't done or I'm not willing to do myself." She was just a wonderful person. Again I hate to keep harping on this. She was a democrat. I mean that with a small 'd.' She was a democrat. She believed in involving everybody, and she believed that you didn't have to have a Ph.D. degree to make some contribution to the debate. Other people did believe that. If you were a grade school drop-out, "Who cares about you? What did you know? I'm a college graduate. I know everything." She didn't believe that. She believed that there's something in everybody. That everybody can make some kind of contribution.