Scope and arrangement
The Ella Baker Papers provide a snapshot of her life as an activist and visionary for a variety of progressive organizations in the United States, from the 1930s through the 1980s. Documented here are the organizations and individuals that were central to Baker's network such as George Schulyer, The Young Women's Christian Association, In Friendship, A. Phillip Randolph, and Bayard Rustin. The collection, however, does not document her personal life nor does it fully capture her philosophy or political ideas.
The Ella Baker papers are arranged in eight series:
Series contains very little biographical and personal information about Baker. There are five telegrams (1927-1935) from T. J. Robinson, Baker's future husband and fellow graduate from Shaw University; two essays written while Baker was an undergraduate student at Shaw University - The Challenge of the Age and the Negro Youth and The Challenge of the Age and the Youth of the Land; and miscellaneous personal correspondence (1934-1980). The bulk of the material in this series is undated.
Filed with the Personal Papers are three folders of research material collected by Baker biographer, Joanne Grant, while working on the biography Ella Baker: Freedom Bound (1998) and the documentary film, Fundi: The Story of Ella Baker, which she wrote, produced and directed. Included in the research files are transcripts of interviews with Baker, index cards with research notes relating to the Baker family and Baker's academic background, as well as chapter drafts. Biographical materials on George Schuyler, along with photocopies from the Martin Luther King Jr. Papers at Boston University and photocopies from the records of the NAACP-National office at the Library of Congress, also gathered by Joanne Grant for this project, can be found here. Some oversized photocopies from the NAACP organizational records and memorandum are filed with the oversized printed materials in Box 14.
Series contains undated transcripts of interviews (Box 2, Folder 2) that appear to have been conducted by Joanne Grant, in which Baker discusses her work in the area of consumer education during the 1930s as well as Baker's hand-written notes (1917-1918) on consumer education. Filed here also is correspondence, writings, flyers and printed material of the Co-operative League (1931-1940), the Young Negroes Co-operative League, Harlem's Own Co-operative, where Ella Baker worked as the Education and Publicity Officer, and the National Association of Consumers. The items relating to the consumer education program of the Works Progress Administration consists of memoranda, flyers and announcements for a variety of programs, forums and fundraising events promoting co-operatives and consumer education. Of note are: a memo from Ella Baker titled "Qualifications Desired in Teachers of Consumer Education" to Mr. Gerdy, the Director of the Education Division of the Works Progress Administration in New York City; and a 5-year action plan for the economic empowerment of the black community, written by George Schuyler.
Series is divided into two sub-series, National Office and Branches.
The bulk of this series consists of correspondence (1956-1963) and memoranda (1958-1960). Among the items housed here are letters between Ella Baker and A. Phillip Randolph, International President, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, relating to a report prepared by the SCLC on the violence, intimidation and reprisals experienced by civil rights leaders in the South and the press release announcing the Youth Leadership Retreat, March 2, 1960 from which the Student Non-violent Co-ordinating Committee emerged, along with an article from Harper's Weekly "The Dangerous Road before MLK" by James Baldwin. A few 1958 affidavits of voters from Jefferson County, Alabama that include a 14 page statement written by Baker that she obtained from Mary Lou Thomas documenting the challenges Thomas encountered when she attempted to register to vote in the 1958 Keithville, Louisiana elections. Also included area two page letter to New York City Mayor Robert F. Wagner from Nathan H. Schwerner, the father of slain civil rights worker Michael Schwerner and letters exchanged between Baker and Stanley D. Levison. There are also two copies of the SCLC constitution and by-laws.
Series contains the field reports (1960-1963) that document the daily routine and the challenges faced by the SNCC field workers as they attempted to do community organizing throughout the South. An undated paper by Mike Miller proposing 'An Internal Education for SNCC' presents an envisioned role for SNCC as well as the challenges to the organization. Testimony, affidavits, an interview of Stokely Carmichael by William A. Price, a staff writer for the National Guardian dated (1966), along with undated items in the brochures and flyers folder, provide a topical history of SNCC. Carmichael had been a SNCC organizer for freedom elections in Lowndes County, Alabama before being appointed Chairman of SNCC. There is also a copy of a speech by Carmichael in 1967 on the issue of Vietnam. There are memos and fund-raising appeal letters (1963-1967) from the New York City- based supporters called Friends of SNCC, a group of New York City based supporters. A folder on Hubert "Rap" Brown, (1964-1976) folder contains some information about his tenure as chairman and his multi-state arrest and eventual convictions during this time. Hubert "Rap" Brown, Carmichael's successor as chairman of SNCC, contains some information about his tenure as chairman and his multi-state arrest and eventual convictions during this time. Efforts by the New York SNCC office to gather support for the Mississippi Summer Project in 1964 is documented here. There are fact sheets, fund-raising appeals and "materials needed" lists included in the Summer Project material.
This series most effectively demonstrates the expanse of Baker's activism, organizing skills and political savvy in that it contains folders for thirty plus organizations in which her involvement extended beyond membership.
Series contains published and unpublished articles, monographs and manuals about movements, causes and grassroots organizing. Organizational newspapers and newspaper clippings related to some of the many areas of Baker's work are housed here.