This episode discusses the work of Ella Baker and the different traditions and influences that shaped her organizing and her understanding of democracy. Baker didn’t write much and what she did write is not widely available. Instead, her approach is taught through accounts of it by historians of the civil rights movement and her biographers. So it is her life and practice that I focus on in this two part episode. In part 1 of the episode I discuss Baker's biography, her vision of democracy, and her legacy with my colleague, Wesley Hogan. Wesley is Research Professor at the Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke. She has researched and written extensively on the civil rights movement, particularly the work of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (or SNCC) which Baker helped organize and within which Baker was a key figure. And in her most recent book, Wesley examines contemporary movements influenced by Baker such as the Movement for Black Lives and the International Indigenous Youth Council, which is involved in the struggle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline and protect sovereign control of Indigenous lands.
Wesley Hogan is Research Professor at the Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University. She writes and teaches the history of youth social movements, human rights, documentary studies, and oral history. Her book books include, On the Freedom Side, which draws a portrait of young people organizing in the spirit of Ella Baker since 1960; Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC's Dream for a New America (2009) and a volume co-edited with Paul Ortiz entitled, People Power: History, Organizing, and Larry Goodwyn’s Democratic Vision in the Twenty-First Century. Between 2003-2013, she taught at Virginia State University, where she worked with the Algebra Project and the Young People’s Project. From 2013-2021, she served as Director of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke. She co-facilitates a partnership between the SNCC Legacy Project and Duke,The SNCC Digital Gateway, the purpose of which is to bring the grassroots stories of the civil rights movement to a much wider public through a web portal, K12 initiative, and set of critical oral histories.
Resources for Going Deeper
Charles Payne, “Slow and Respectful Work” & “Mrs Hamer is No Longer Relevant,” I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), Ch.’s 8 & 13.
Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2003).
J. Todd Moye, Ella Baker: Community Organizer of the Civil Rights Movement (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2013).
Mie Inouye, “Starting with People Where They Are: Ella Baker’s Theory of Political Organizing,” American Political Science Review 116:2 (2022), 533–546.
Interview with Ella Baker (1968)