Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Ella Baker biography by Ransby is insightful

Enjoying Barbara Ransby's biography of civil rights activist, Ella Baker--Ella Baker & the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision (The University of North Carolina Press, 2003)

Barbara Ransby's analysis of the conditions that shaped Ella Baker's formative years during the early decades of the 20th century in rural North Carolina is compelling reading--Baker's family members were landowners which afforded them economic stability (her maternal grandfather Mitchell Ross owned land); they practiced charitable activities that a measure of financial security allowed them to act upon and that reflected their Christian values (Mitchell Ross was also an influential preacher); the overall adherence to mutual aid practiced by the community of Christian men and women who were Baker's neighbors, underscored their dedication to uplift the disadvantaged tenant farmer class of Black people, and especially impressive to me is Ransby's explanation of the tradition of mutual aid  that the Black Baptist women auxiliaries performed in Baker's northeastern region of North Carolina (and presumably throughout the South), providing food and childcare, assisting the sick, sharing farming equipment and labor, when necessary.

These conditions were a foundation upon which Baker's later organizing and advocacy for social justice were built; Ransby says:

"[Baker] eventually adopted the notion that the more privileged, educated, and articulate members of the African American community were not only duty-bound to come to the aid of their less fortunate brothers and sisters, but also had to humble themselves in order to create the social space necessary for the more oppressed people in the community to speak and act on their own behalf. Ella Baker built on, but moved beyond, the religious teachings of her youth.  The values of charitable giving, sacrifice, and communalism that she internalized as a child became a part of her more secular world view as an adult. She ultimately identified with the plight of the poor and the working class, not as a gesture of Christian charity, but as an act of political solidarity. The choices she made over the course of her life distanced her from her relatively advantaged class background and merged her own consciousness and material self-interest with the concerns of the have-nots. In economic terms, she 'eked out an existence' most of her adult life" (44-45).

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