Address Delivered by Ella Josephine Baker in Hattiesburg, Mississippi (1964)
Ella Josephine Baker (1903–1986) was a grassroots activist who helped to found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), after having already worked with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for several years. Among the SNCC’s major accomplishments were the 1961 Freedom Rides and numerous initiatives to register African Americans to vote. The speech below is taken from a voter registration drive in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where Baker was introduced by fellow activist Dr. Aaron Henry (1922–1997). Her message in this excerpt demonstrates her commitment to making the civil rights movement more democratic—specifically, Baker often criticized civil rights organizations for being dominated by men. In this address, she playfully chastises Henry for suggesting that her involvement in the movement is a mere “fling,” and later calls out another leader who prematurely declares the movement to be nearing its completion.