Ella Baker: “One of the most consequential and yet one of the least honored people in America”

On April 24, 1968, Howard Zinn introduced organizer Ella Baker at a dinner honoring her work. Zinn described Baker as “one of the most consequential and yet one of the least honored people in America.” Baker addressed the Southern Conference Education Fund, calling attention to the work of SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee). American Radio Works provides this context:

Ella Baker, speaking at a news conference, January 3, 1968. Ruby Dee at right. Source: Jack Harris/AP Images.

This speech was recorded at New York’s Roosevelt Hotel at a dinner honoring Ella Baker. The event was sponsored by the Southern Conference Education Fund (SCEF). SCEF was an interracial civil rights group. Baker had worked with the organization from the late 1950s. It was headed by two of her closest friends, Anne and Carl Braden, who were white. The Bradens were journalists and radical activists from Louisville, Kentucky who challenged racial oppression in their hometown and across the South. In 1954, the Bradens purchased a home on behalf of a black couple in a segregated white suburb of Louisville. Angry whites burned a cross on the lawn and finally bombed the house when the black occupants were away.

Anne Braden was present at the testimonial dinner in New York. Baker mentions her, and also refers to the recently released report of the President’s Commission on Civil Disorders. The commission had been appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to study the causes of rioting in African American urban neighborhoods in 1967.

The tribute dinner took place three weeks after King’s assassination in Memphis. H. Rap Brown attended the dinner, having been recently released from a Louisiana prison on a weapons charge. Stokely Carmichael was there, too, flanked by bodyguards because of the increasing controversy caused by his black power rhetoric.

Historian Howard Zinn introduced Ella Baker as “one of the most consequential and yet one of the least honored people in America.” Zinn continued: “She was always doing the nitty-gritty, down-in-the-earth work that other people were not doing. While all sorts of rhetoric was going on, all kinds of grandstanding was going on, that’s what she was doing.”

Read more about Ella Baker at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, SNCC Digital Gateway, and Zinn Education Project.

Comments are closed.