Pascal Robert reviews a new biography of Ella Baker (Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement by Barbara Ransby) and I’m convinced to go pick up the book. It seems fascinating to think about the inquiry into Baker’s challenges to the dominant communication and organizing styles of the civil rights leaders of her day. It seems valuable to explore and educate about the model of charismatic masculine oratory — the singular male leader inspiring the crowds.
What made Baker’s method of organizing both effective and revolutionary is that it completely dismissed the traditional paradigm of leadership that had plagued the black community from its earliest history in North America, stemming mostly from the black church: Charismatic masculine leadership based on oratory and exhibitionism. Baker believed in empowering the most common person, whether a sharecropper, teenager, or illiterate vagrant with skills to make demands on the political establishment. Baker believed that people did not need fancy leaders with degrees and pedigree to tell them what was best for them. She believed in giving people the power to choose their direction and make demands, and put pressure on institutions without depending on big shots with fancy suits. In her book, Professor Ransby notes:
“At every opportunity [Ella] Baker reiterated the radical idea that educated elites were not the natural leaders of Black people. Critically reflecting on her work with the NAACP, she observed, “The Leadership was all from the professional class, basically. I think these are the factors that have kept it [the NAACP] from moving to a more militant position.”
Thanks to Mark Anthony Neal’s New Black Man (in Exile) for the story and link.