Ella Baker Day commemorating the accomplishments of a local Civil rights hero
This past weekend citizens were invited to attend and participate in activities of the Ella Baker Day celebration. Ella Baker was born on December 13, 1903 in Norfolk, Va. Her parents were Georgianna Ross-Baker of Elam, N.C. (located just north of the Roanoke River that runs through Lake Gaston) and Blake Baker. They lived in Norfolk, Va. until she was 7 years old, before returning to Littleton on East End Avenue.
Her formative years were greatly influenced by her maternal grandfather and founder of Roanoke Chapel Church in Elam, Rev. Mitchell Ross. She was reared with an understanding of and appreciation for the value and worth of each member in the community.
Each person shared their labors to benefit the community. There was bartering of goods amongst themselves to support a thriving and self-reliant community. For example, there was Uncle Freddie who had the dairy farm providing milk, butter and cattle, and Cousin Willie that grew wheat for the flour, another cousin that took sugar cane to make the molasses, and Aunt Fannie and Sophie, who had a small general store for other provisions which also became the barber shop on Friday evenings. Several of the men ran their own sawmill. Everyone had gardens of fresh vegetables and fruit trees.
We still have apple and pear trees and even plums, five generations later to enjoy today! Cousin Belle boarded the teachers that taught at their own school, known as the Elam School for grades k-7. They brought in help to harvest the fields because the children were attending school. Education was always the priority for the children to secure the prospects of a better life offering more choices for their future. The children of Ella Baker’s generation went on to become educators and business owners. She went on to become the valedictorian of the 1927 graduating class of Shaw University.
She moved to New York City during the height of the Harlem Renaissance, which influenced her perceptions about art, literature, and philosophies through friendships with folks like James Baldwin, Harry Belafonte, and Stokely Carmichael. Human rights and social justice motivated her to become active with movements about social change that demanded that all human beings were worthy of the same rights and each person is to be valued much like she witnessed in her formative years sent in Elam. Those influences also shaped her way of organizing folks to understand their intrinsic value and empower the use there of, for the good of the community.
Baker used her talent during the Civil Rights Movement as one of the first organizers and field officers for the NAACP in New York and the SCLC- Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She was a mentor to Rosa Parks and used her writing skills to craft some of Martin Luther King’s speeches. She worked quietly behind the scenes to organize, motivate and empower.
At the age of 59, she returned to Shaw University during the spring break of April 1960 to organize and prepare the students for the sit-ins in Greensboro and the Freedom Riders to Mississippi. These were very difficult times in our nation but the results of those events have shaped us to be a better union and our country as an example of what is possible from UNDERSTANDING one another. For that reason, Ella Baker Day is to be celebrated as A DAY OF UNDERSTANDING! Her hometown of Littleton in Halifax County along with her extended hometown of Elam in Warren County have proclaimed April 15 as Ella Baker Day.
Thank you to the citizens of Littleton, Halifax County and Warren County for recognizing Ella Baker for her contributions to our country. The Ella Baker Educational Project of NC, Inc, has been established to make known to all but especially to youth about the life and legacy of Ella Baker, with a mission of continuing her legacy by facilitating events and opportunities for all citizens to be reminded of their value to a thriving community, promoting cultural enlightenment and diversity appreciation for the sake of understanding how we can all come together with a respect for the dignity of all human beings.
The Ella Baker Day, Day of Understanding, was a remarkable success, drawing attendees from as far away as New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and DC as well as students from Halifax Early College, Warren County Schools, Warren County Seniors and local citizens. Thank you, to our exhibitors, for sharing about your programs and inviting folks to become engaged as volunteers. Thank you to the marvelous students from Warren County New Tech that made sure attendees participated in the broadband internet survey. Thank you to the awesome panelist that presented the data, the implications and next steps in addressing the digital divide in gaining access to broadband internet service to ALL citizens in recognizing it as the 21st century utility that will become as commonplace as electricity and water. Thank you to everyone that attended the viewing of the documentary about Ella Baker entitled, “Fundi, the story of Ella Baker.” This video is available to your church or organization by contacting Carolyn Ross- Holmes to schedule a movie night event at your location. Thank you to all the news publications for the articles about Ella Baker and the events.
Thank you to all the board of directors and volunteers that made for a memorable evening at the Roanoke Rapids Theater for the first Ella Baker Honors Gala event. The honorees were Dr. Cosmos George of Warren County, Rev. Florine Bell of Roanoke Rapids and Dr. Rev. Charles E. McCollum, of Littleton. Each was presented with a crystal flame award engraved with the message: “Thank you for your dedication to Social Justice.” They also each received a personalized framed print inscribed with a specific Ella Baker quote that best suited the honoree to give further encouragement, in her words, to them. Thank you to the phenomenal performances from soloist Erma Williams and the youth vocals from the Laster Family. Thank you to the Roanoke Chapel Baptist Church family located in Elam, for welcoming Ella Baker family members that attended services on Palm Sunday.
Ella Baker Day, A Day of Understanding was awesome and I close with her words, “Give light and people will find the way.”
Visit our website to learn more about Ella Baker and for a photo gallery of the event: www.ellabakereducationalprojectofnc.org