African American History
04 September 2021
Ella Baker’s Take on Economic Justice
America during the 1950s and 1960s was in a midst of a movement, a movement so powerful lead by African American activists, influencers, and historical figures to end racial segregation, injustice, etc. as we know today as the Civil Rights Movement. This movement was unlike any other movement in the United States because it was a movement to empower African Americans to stand up for their rights, freedom, equality, and justice in the face of Jim Crow. It has inspired people to be part of this movement from powerful leaders such as Rosa Park, Martin Luther King Jr, Thurgood Marshall, etc. that we look back into to provide a way forward to deal with present-day issues such as systemic racism, economic inequality, etc. Even though this is great to learn about, we have to look deeper behind the scenes in the Civil Rights Movement to a forgotten leader who is known as the mother of the Civil Rights Movement and been a mentor to the influential Civil Rights activists we know today. Her name is Ella Baker. A name we are not aware of but a name that should never be forgotten who has shaped our country and is fighting for human rights and economic justice. This is shown on Ella Baker’s response and stance to the issue of economic injustice and how we can better understand the causes behind it and the solution to it for a path forward for America.
The issue of economic justice in the United States has been the forefront core for Ella Baker that is displayed on how she would respond to it that will shape a movement in America. How Ella Baker is worth taking note of because according to the “Bigger than a Hamburger” speech, she stares that the struggle Africans Americans are facing in restaurant sit-ins is bigger than a hamburger in response to the situation. In the speech, it encourages a drive for freedom where “[w]hatever may be the difference in approach to their goal, the Negro and white students, North and South are seeking to rid America of the scourge of racial segregation and discrimination—not only at lunch counters but in every aspect of life.” I believe this speech brings the importance of Baker’s response to the issue where she is creating a movement of change for every American regardless of race to challenge the status quo of segregation in restaurant sit-ins. On top of that, Baker wants to emphasize that “the movement was concerned with the moral implications of racial discrimination for the whole world and the Human Race” She is also highlighting the fight for freedom where we “want the world to know that we are no longer accept the inferior position of second-class citizenship. We are willing to go to jail, be ridiculed, spat upon, and even suffer physical violence to obtain First Class Citizenship.” Overall, Baker’s stance for freedom and action to this movement speaks in volume about how she sees the economic injustice where blacks are being treated as second-class citizens with restrictions and violence as they’re trying to have peace at a restaurant sit-in. All though we understand the response to the issue, what was the cause of this, and what solution can be taken place?
What the cause of economic justice is and the solution to it is shown in Baker’s strategy to activate a movement of change for Americans to deal with economic injustice. First, we need to understand the importance of participatory democracy and how it has played a big role to promote economic justice. What participatory democracy is where citizens are provided power to influence and make policy decisions that affect ordinary people in America. An example of this is the Southern Christian Leadership Conference or SCLP that has played a critical role in the movement to fight racism, economic injustice, and other issues blacks face in America. According to Google Scholarly about participatory democracy, it has an emphasis on participation such as “an appeal for grassroots involvement of people throughout society in the decisions that control their lives, the minimization of hierarchy and the associated emphasis on expertise and professionalism as a basis for leadership and a call for direct action as an answer to fear, alienation, and intellectual detachment.” The source also talks about that “these ideas served as the basis for her decisive intervention in support of an independent student-led organization” called the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee” and states that “participatory democracy frame is important for recognizing the source of ideas in a context of ongoing struggle.” What I like about this is that participatory democracy is getting people engaged in fighting for what’s right in America in its ongoing struggle against economic injustice.
Mueller, Carol. “Ella Baker and the origins of “participatory democracy”.” The black studies reader (2004): 1926-1986.
Ransby, Barbara. Ella Baker and the Black freedom movement: A radical democratic vision. Univ of North Carolina Press, 2003.