Ella Baker Day Symposium at U.Va. To Celebrate 'Mother of Civil Rights' Movement

March 28, 2011 — A list of the titans of the Civil Rights Movement includes Thurgood Marshall, A. Philip Randolph and Martin Luther King Jr. But the list should include Ella Baker, an unsung heroine of the movement who worked closely, but quietly, with those titans over her long career.

As part of an ongoing effort to establish an annual Ella Baker Day each April 15 in Virginia to honor the native daughter, there will be an Ella Baker Day Symposium in the Dome Room of the University of Virginia's Rotunda on April 1 from noon to 4:30 p.m., then continuing in Clark Hall, room 108, from 4:30 to 6:15 p.m.

The symposium will discuss historical contributions of women of color, student organizing, community organizing and social justice. Events will include two panel discussions, an award presentation and a screening of the award-winning documentary film, "Fundi: The Story of Ella Baker." (Full details.)

The keynote speaker will be Ruby Sales, a civil rights activist and the founder and co-director of the SpiritHouse Project, which promotes participatory democracy and works for racial, economic and social justice.

Ella Josephine Baker's half-century of activism spanned from the Harlem Renaissance of the late 1920s through the 1970s. Known for her belief in the potential and dignity of every individual, and for linking criticisms of racism and gender discrimination to criticisms of capitalism and social imperialism, she worked closely, but mostly behind-the-scenes, with nearly every major civil rights leader and  mentored many younger leaders, including Julian Bond, Diane Nash, Bob Moses and Stokely Carmichael, who later concluded, "The most powerful person in the struggle of the '60s was Miss Ella Baker, not Martin Luther King."

Recognized by many as a mother of the Civil Rights Movement, Baker was a senior leader in two of the movement's most influential organizations: the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Baker was born Dec. 13, 1903, in Norfolk, and died in 1986 on her 83rd birthday.

"A day in honor of Ella Baker would bring much-needed attention to Baker's amazing accomplishments, but such a day would also highlight the lives of all Virginia's underrepresented and oppressed communities, including people of color, women of color and the working class," said conference organizer Hephzibah Strmic-Pawl, a U.Va. doctoral student in sociology in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and a leader of the effort to establish an Ella Baker Day.

The Ella Baker Day Symposium is hosted by Magnitude Collective and co-sponsored by the following U.Va. organizations: the Miller Center of Public Affairs, the Women's Center and its Diversity and Advocacy Program, Graduate Student Diversity Programs in the Office of the Vice President for Research, the LGBT Resource Center, the Office of Diversity and Equity, the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, UCARE (the University and Community Action for Racial Equity), the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies, and the Studies in Women and Gender program.

The proposed proclamation and petition for the creation of an Ella Baker Day are available online.

For information, contact Strmic-Pawl at 312-972-1920 or hephzibah@gmail.com.

— By Brevy Cannon

Media Contact

H. Brevy Cannon

Office of University Communications