"Bigger Than A Hamburger"

by Ella Baker (June 1960)

Ella Baker (1903—1986) played an instrumental role in the development of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Baker was born in Norfolk, Virginia, and grew up in rural Littleton, North Carolina. After graduating from Shaw University, she organized consumer cooperatives in New York and worked on consumer affairs for the Works Progress Administration (WPA). In the 1940s Baker became a national field secretary of the NAACP, traveling throughout the country organizing branches and developing membership drives. Increasingly,Baker became disaffected with the NAACP's leadership, because decision-making occurred primarily in the national office rather than in the branch organizations. In 1957 Baker joined King to help found the SCLC. She directed the SCLC national office and was instrumental in coordinating major civil disobedience actions. She became critical of the SCLC because of its emphasis on charismatic leadership. In 1960 Baker was the principal organizer in helping student protesters establish the SNCC. She solicited funds for SNCC and assisted in planning strategies for voter registration drives and desegregation campaigns. Baker eventually broke with the SCLC after she disagreed with ministers who felt that SNCC should simply be an arm of the SCLC, rather than an independent organization. Although she preferred working behind the scenes to playing a public leadership role, she is widely regarded by scholars as one of the central leaders inthe Black Freedom movement.

"Raleigh, N.C.—The Student Leadership Conference made it crystal clear that current sit-ins and other demonstrations are concerned with something muchbigger than a hamburger or even a giant-sized Coke.

Whatever may be the difference in approach to their goal, the Negro and whitestudents, North and South, are seeking to rid America of the scourge of racial seg-regation and discrimination—not only at lunch counters, but in every aspect of life.

In reports, casual conversations, discussion groups, and speeches, the sense and the spirit of the following statement that appeared in the initial newsletter of the students at Barber-Scotia College, Concord, N.C., were re-echoed time and again:

We want the world to know that we 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.
By and large, this feeling that they have a destined date with freedom, was not limited to a drive for personal freedom, or even freedom for the Negro in the South.

Repeatedly it was emphasized that the movement was concerned with the moral implications of racial discrimination for the "whole world" and the "Human Race."

This universality of approach was linked with a perceptive recognition that "it is important to keep the movement democratic and to avoid struggles for personal leadership."

It was further evident that desire for supportive cooperation from adult leaders and the adult community was also tempered by apprehension that adults might try to "capture" the student movement. The students showed willingness to be met on the basis of equality, but were intolerant of anything that smacked of manipulation or domination.

This inclination toward group-centered leadership, rather than toward a leader-centered group pattern of organization, was refreshing indeed to those of the older group who bear the scars of the battle, the frustrations and the disillusionment that come when the prophetic leader turns out to have heavy feet of clay.

However hopeful might be the signs in the direction of group-centeredness, the fact that many schools and communities, especially in the South, have not provided adequate experience for young Negroes to assume initiative and think and act independently accentuated the need for guarding the student movement against well-meaning, but nevertheless unhealthy, over-protectiveness.

Here is an opportunity for adult and youth to work together and provide genuine leadership—the development of the individual to his highest potential for the benefit of the group.

Many adults and youth characterized the Raleigh meeting as the greatest or most significant conference of our period.

Whether it lives up to this high evaluation or not will, in a large measure, be determined by the extent to which there is more effective training in and understanding of non-violent principles and practices, in group dynamics, and in the re-direction into creative channels of the normal frustrations and hostilities that result from second-class citizenship.

Source: "Bigger than a Hamburger," Southern Patriot 18 (June 1960).

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