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The Transformational Leadership of Ella Baker PSC 785

Isaac Holloway February 24, 2013

Bass (1985) expanded upon the theoretical work of Burns and House suggesting that transformational leadership motivates followers by raising their level of awareness about the importance of their goals. Liu. and selflessness in service to the ultimate goal a leader must make use of charisma and pattern the proposed values in order to inspire their followers (Northouse. values and performance of their followers. Burns identiefies transformational leadership as as a process where the leader creates a bond that inspires a heightend level of motivation and morality in follower. Bass in his 1990 article From Transactional to Transformational Leadership: Learning to Share the Vision. 2010). and a possessing a strong desire to influence others. writes. Transformational leadership as a theory was pioneered by James MacGregor Burns (Northouse. House suggested that charismatic leaders possesed certain traits. 1978). skills. morally secure. Burns points to figures such as Mohandas Gandhi as an example noting that the end result of Transformational Leadership is always rooted in the greater good (Burns. Charismatic leaders inspire and excite their employees with the idea that they may be able to do great things with extra effort”. Employees want to identify with them and they have a high degree of trust and confidence in them. In addition House notes that charismatic leaders lead by example proving a template for followers to emulate (House. To be successful in guiding followers towards a change in values. Zheng. Zhu. self-confidence. House a contemporary of Burns was at the time introducing his theory of charismatic leadership. Robert J. high performance. 2010). “Charismatic leaders have great power and influence. Wang. As a result a transformational leader takes great care in developing the motivations.2 Transformational leadership is a style of leadership in which the leader seeks to influence followers in the interest of inspiring them to give more than what would be normally expected of them (Northouse. and . 2010). 1976). transend their selfishness in favor of the team or organization. Housed identifed those traits as dominance.

2003). 1903 in Norfolk. North Carolina. 2003). During her time with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). 1989). Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). 1996) (Payne. In addition Baker watched her grandfather utilize his relative privilege gained by owning his land rather than sharecropping to help build and support other members or the Black community including mortgaging his property to help . Ella Baker in her leadership capacities exemplifies these traits. .3 Mao (2012) in their study found that personal identification with one‟s Leader increased the innovativeness of the followers. their identification with the organization. Ella Baker was born December 13. Over decades of work Ella Baker patterned a vision of group centered mass action in response to Jim Crow segregation and used her skills. her clashes with organizational policy and the continued persistence of her ideas after retirement from active public life (Ransby. Baker was born into a family with a strong tradition of community responsibility and resistance of oppression (Ransby. her friends and associates. and reduced turnover. Virginia and from age seven was raised in Littlejohn. and rhetorical abilities to influence anti-racist organizations and develop the skills of those around her towards the goal of local leadership and mass engagement irrelevant of class biases championing the idea that strong people do not need strong leader (Elliott. and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Baker‟s dedication to anti oppression and mass action is apparent not only through her actions but also through her protégés. It was in Littlejohn where under the strict tutelage of her mother and watchful eye of the Baptist missionary societies where Baker began to learn the tools and values that serve as her foundation for her exploits as a leader and as an activist. Both Ransby (2003) and Payne (1989) note that Baker grew up listening to the stories of her grandmother whippings at the hands of her former master when she refused to marry a man that was selected for her. extensive activist network.

service to those less fortunate. Baker explained. particularly the principle of Christian charity. Among Baker‟s other formative influence was her mother and her mother‟s involvement in the local missionary societies as well as the rural character of Littlejohn. in order for „the women . 2003). to be able to have some identity of their own. North Carolina. . Anna Ross Baker was trained as a teacher and was active within the local church. During this particular period in history it was common for elite to middle class black persons to view themselves as the representatives and exemplars of the race (Payne. and the uplift of her race was her responsibility due to the privilege that she enjoyed. . In addition to Anna Ross Baker‟s tutelage Ella Baker was engaged alongside her mother in the local and regional Baptist missionary societies. Baker‟s mother.‟ At these meetings she observed not simply ritualistic expressions of faith but also the business of applying religious principles. in the real world. According to Ransby (2003). It was through creating this example and helping the working class and the poor as well as less respectable classes such as drunkards or criminals to achieve the respectability and status of the middle class was a worth endeavor for the cause racial uplift. . Anna Ross Baker raised her daughter Ella in the manner typical of most middle class black of their day.4 buy food for the community after a flood. 1989) (Ransby. Anna Ross Baker made sure that her daughters were equally well instructed in ladylike behavior. “These auxiliary associations had been formed. This combination of class privilege and religious adherence insured that Ella Baker and her siblings were constantly instructed on the concepts of humility. As an educator Anna Ross Baker made sure her children we instructed in the areas of writing and grammar before entering a formal school and as a middle class Christian woman.

and conducting their own meetings. health concerns and out of concern for the children‟s education. sponsoring and orphanage as well as supporting local grammar schools. North Carolina from Norfolk. In Norfolk as well as other cities across the south at the time of Ella Baker‟s birth cities began to pass ordinance after ordinance severely restricting the rights of Black persons and . 2003). North Carolina as a small rural town where Baker‟s mother. 1989). A place where sharing and informal adoptions were commonplace and where the relationships one forged were more important than the money one made. Their service was not just limited to intra-community work but also extended into the realm of activism through advocating for anti-lynching legislation and challenges to segregation. These were women who were creating their own policy.5 In this spirit of charity these women‟s auxiliary associations participated in numerous activities such as providing scholarships. Another critical influence in Ella Baker‟s childhood was the relative isolation of Littlejohn. It was this environment where Baker solidified the idea that people needed a strong sense of themselves and their own strengths to be healthy and happy (Payne. Ransby (2003) notes that Anna Ross Baker proposed to her husband that the family should relocate to Littlejohn. helping the sick and elderly. Payne (1989) notes that Baker in reflection about her child recalls a kind of familial bond that took precedence over class status. North Carolina. This rural isolation is significant in that it largely shielded Ella Baker and siblings from the day to day bigotry and terror of white persons that was more common when Black communities lived in closer proximity to white ones. managing their own finances. Virginia for this very reason in addition to a dislike for the city. Witnessing this provided Baker with a sense of her potential (Ransby. Anna Ross Baker‟s family was located. Perhaps more importantly Ella Baker witnessed these organizations being led by women. Ransby (2003) describes Littlejohn.

writers. During this time Baker was heavily involved with a variety fo activities. Angry mobs of white citizens took to the streets to terrorize Black citizens in what Ransby (2003) describes as an attempt to “…reaffirm by collective violence the sense of white superiority that had been lost in the ring”. The close proximity of the city allowed for whites to impose upon. 2003). and intellectuals of every kind. It was during this time Baker spent time attending lectures and debates on the streets of New York absorbing information and considering the merits of various ideologies including socialism and communsim as paths for racial uplift (Elliott. 1996) (Ransby. Baker also got her first tastes of activism when she worked with George Schulyer to form The Young Negros Cooperative League (YNCL) and as she worked with the Womens Day Workers and the Industrial league. intimidate. and terrorize the cities Black population in such a way that the rural isolation of Littlejohn denied. 2003). The next major influence of Ella Baker‟s values was her presence in the political and cultural cauldron of the 1930s depression era New York City. artists. She was on the editorial staff of two newspapers focusing on the Black experience. As a result Ella Baker and her siblings were largely spared the humiliating indignity of anti-black bigotry helping to maintain a positive self-image that was not well adjusted to humbling itself before the power of whiteness (Ransby. The YNCL was organized around pooling the buying power of poor black in an effort to help assuage some of . One such example occurred when Jack Johnson a heavyweight boxer defeated his white opponent. In addition to the social and political limitations was always the underlying thread of mob violence. Elliott (1996) describes New York City at the time as a the focal point for radical leftist thought.6 enshrining anti-black racism into the city institutions. Given the economic upheaval of the great depression created much discussion concerning the state of the world and how it could be changed for the better.

1996) (Ransby. 1989) (Elliott. To Baker this was a massive mismanagment of the potential of the local NAACP chapters as well as being undemocratic and authoritarian. It was in cauldron of thought and ideas that was New York City in the 30s and Bakers participation where she met with the firsts tests of her activist career (Ransby. That revenue stream were the dues and fund that local NAACP chapters were able to raise. In her work with the Womens Day Workers and Industrial league Baker pretended to be a domestic worker to invesitage the conditions these persons had to work under (Payne. This was an unacceptabe state of affairs for Baker so as field secretary in her recuritment efforts rather than seek out the educated and professional elites as was expected of here Baker sought out the masses the every day folk (Elliott. In order to continue persuing the litigation strategy the NAACP needed a consistent revenue stream. 1996) (Payne. 2003). . 2003). Payne (1989) notes that by 1944 the NAACP had some 400. It was the orientation of the NAACP at the time that the paramount endeavor of civil rights work was litigation and have had success with that strategy. Baker‟s undercover work as a domestic particularly as an educated woman of the middle class as well as her work organizing the buying cooperative for poor blacks demonstrates how Baker solidified her values of service to those less fortunate and the importance of all people into praxis. In 1941 Ella Baker was hired as an assistant field secretary for the NAACP.000 members who had no role in the NAACP‟s policy development which was centralized in the National Headquarters in New York.7 the difficulties of the great depression in similar fashion to her grandfather mortaging his land to help feed his community. 2003). In her capacity as a field secretary she was tasked with meeting with local NAACP chapters to conduct membership drives as well as to help sustain or initiate movement building at the local level (Ransby.

bars and grilles. Without Baker getting to know and inspiring personal identification it is unlikely Baker have been as successful in her recruitment efforts. 1989). 1996) (Payne. “Baker wanted to build as large a base for the NAACP as she could. exemplify Baker‟s habit of pushing the boundaries of acceptable behavior for a respectable. and Virginia joining organizations such as the NAACP was done at great risk of reprisal by local whites (Elliott.8 1989) (Ransby. In order to successful with interfacing with the regular was necessary for Baker to be aware of her class privilege. the chapter head Lillie Jackson described by Ransby (2003) as a socialite bristled at Baker‟s disregard for the established traditions of seeking out elites as well as Baker meeting with the rank and file members to gain and understanding their grievances with Jackson in what she perceived to be an . Baker was not always well received however in an organizing trip to the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP. boot black parlors. True to her values Ella Baker wanted to empower people to help themselves. According to Ransby (2003) Baker had a favorite story of a woman approaching her citing that they had the same dress. middle-class. Ransby (2003) writes. Alabama. obvious gender transgressions. In this endeavor Baker sought out the masses where they might be.‟ These forays into traditionally male domains. married woman during the 1940s. This type of personal identification was of paramount importance because the people that Baker worked with as assistant field secretary in the particularly in the southern states of Florida. She conveyed to Assistant Secretary Roy Wilkins her ideas for „increasing the Crisis circulation and bolstering my campaign efforts by visiting some of the pool-rooms. 2003). Georgia.‟ with the aim of „having a Crisis made available to regular patrons of the business. Ransby (2003) notes that Baker diligently worked to make herself accessible in terms of her language and overall availability to the people she sought to recruit to the NAACP.

My right to an opinion in the matter was completely discounted‟”. Ella Baker persisted with her appeals the regular people and in the process built and extensive network of activists and friends that would serve her well in her future work with the SCLC and SNCC organizations (Ransby. 2003). Payne (1989) quotes Baker as calling the organization stale and uninteresting. . . overly dedicated to middle class respectability. In 1944 the NAACP . as well as ignoring the merits of mass based direct action tactics. Ransby (2003) quotes Baker as saying. “‟The manner in which I was appointed or rather drafted as Director of Branches indicated a thought pattern that does not lend itself to healthy staff relations. Despite this conflict with Jackson‟s Authoritarianism. 1989) (Ransby. overly concerned with the approval of whites. . 2003). Despite this undemocratic process and being treated more as a tool rather than a respected staff member Baker moved into her new position as The Director of Branches with the hope of being in a better position to advocate for empowerment of the local branches. .9 affront to her authority. According to Payne (1989) in her capacity as the Director of Branches Baker also became a more vocal critic of the way the NAACP did business. . It was her opinion that the success the NAACP legal success had cause the organization to ignore their shortcomings. At no time had we [White and Baker] discussed the directorship either in respect to me or to anyone else. In order to correct these things Baker lobbied directly for a more decentralized regional and state based structure which was more attentive to local challenges rather than policy being based down from the national office (Payne. In 1943 Baker was appointed by NAACP leadership namely. to the position of The Director of Branches. Baker was appointed to the position without notice of any sort. The manner of Baker‟s promotion was indicative of the highly centralized authoritarian culture that Baker as an assistant field secretary sought to undo. one Walter White.

education and propaganda.10 had some 400. that the full capacities of the staff have not been used. and cooperation and collaboration with other groups (Ransby. outspoken criticism. In an effort to correct these problems in 1944 through some resistance initiated a series of leadership conferences. Thorough her work as the field secretary Baker understood that NAACP branches often faltered due to the concentration of power at the national office as well as in the hands of elitist branch heads (Ransby. 2003).000 members who Baker should have been the focal point of struggle (Payne. Unfortunately. Ransby (2004) writes that “The purpose of the conference was „to emphasize the basic techniques and procedures for developing and carrying out programs of action in the branches‟”. These leadership conferences were conducted from 1944 to 1946 in 7 cities with more 150 delegates from seventy-three branches and six states in attendance. Ransby (2003) cites Baker‟s reasoning for resignation as follows. The combination of the push back on Baker‟s agenda from the NAACP leadership a new responsibility to care for a nine year old nice caused Baker to resign from the Director of . I find no basis for expecting this‟”. and attack on the centralized authoritarian structure were the motivations for this criticism. Neither one nor all of these reasons would induce me to resign if I felt that objective and honest discussion were possible and that remedial measures would follow. political pressure. 1989). By 1946 Baker‟s criticism and ideological clashing had created resentment in the NAACP leadership who found her difficult and abrasive. It is safe to assume that the combination Baker‟s gender. legal action. The specific topics of discussion were individual and mass protest. that there is little chance of mine being utilized in the immediate future. 2003). “‟My reasons for resigning are basically three—I feel that the Association is falling short of its present possibilities.

11 Branches post in 1946. Phillip Randolph and Stanley Levison formed the organization called In Friendship. It was the purpose of In Friendship to provide material support and resources to persons undergoing physical and economic reprisals in response to their activism (Elliott. Baker‟s work with the NAACP exemplified her dedication to empowerment of the rank and file members of the NAACP. 2003). Baker did not allow the centralized and authoritarian organizational culture of the NAACP cause her to stray from her values. As Director of Branches Baker continued to advocate for decentralization of power and a more active local branches in terms of direct action and policy input organizing leadership conferences to empower local level activists fight their own battles (Elliott. Baker was also the president of the New York City chapter of the NAACP and continued to work centering on equalizing education opportunities for grade school children and in 1955 was asked by the mayor to serve on a board centered on school integration (Payne. This famous protest famously sparked by Rosa Parks‟ planned and tactical refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery Bus. In the mid 1950‟s Baker along with Bayard Rustin. It is worthy of not that Parks attended one of leadership conferences initiated by Baker. 1989) (Ransby. 2003). This resignation however this was not the last of Baker‟s work with the NAACP. 1996) (Payne. 1989) (Ransby. 1996) (Payne. In Friendship‟s formation was catalyzed primarily in response to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. 2003). A. accessible personal manner that inspired the less non-elite at great personal risk work for racial justice as members of the NAACP. . As an assistant field secretary she sought to draw and incorporate regular people defying the politics of respectability that dictated that it leadership and control should only be in the hands of the educated and professional elite. 1989) (Ransby. The 381 day protest generated expenses that In Friendship raised funds to help defer. In this break with the entrenched elitism of the NAACP Baker fostered a relatable.

” In addition to the sexism Baker also began to clash with the leadership style of SCLC‟s leader in one Martin Luther King Jr. Levison. who were held to a much more flexible work schedule. It is worth noting here that the twice Baker served as acting executive director for the NAACP she was never officially installed into the office and this was due to sexism and religious bias. C. This was at odds with . In addition. 1996) (Payne. the treatment of female staffers was obviously chauvinist. the motivation and the connections to see to the SCLC‟s success but due to the fact that Baker was not a member of the clergy a fact that her gender insured and that she was a woman violating the politics of respectability expected of a woman at that particular time she was never treated with the full measure of respect that she earned. Elliot (1996) writes that. The source of Baker‟s dissatisfaction with King was his charismatic leadership style that it invited and encouraged adulation and worship. “Her status was also precarious because she found herself at odds with the ministers due to their unwillingness to outline job descriptions and thereby provide a solid organizational base. K. It was from these working papers and Baker‟s connections to Rev. Secretaries were expected to work considerably longer hours than were ministers. 2003). Baker had the strategic know how. In the afterglow of the Montgomery victory Baker. The SCLC was a loose association of racial justice organization with a planning committee made up of southern clergy with Baker as acting executive director.12 With the success of the boycott and the Supreme Court‟s decision to desegregation transportation Baker was eager to find ways sustain and spread such militant energy and guide it towards other issues. and the emergent Martin Luther King Jr. Steele established during her field secretary days that the SCLC was formed (Elliott. produced a series of seven working papers entitled Southern Negro Leaders Conference on Transportation and Nonviolence. Rustin. 1989) (Ransby.

Though both reared in the Black Church and ardent advocates for racial justice the gender expectations formed the values that . the celebrity status that the movement afforded King was not an aberration but rather a product of a dominant culture that promoted individualism and egocentrism…She argued that activists often unwittingly replicate the values and attributes of those they oppose. Ransby (2003) notes that tension within the SCLC was heighten by Baker‟s harsh criticisms of King. There were different values imparted to King and Baker based upon the expectations created by their respective genders and as a result shaped how King and Baker implemented their skill sets through their leadership. gender. which becomes a detriment to the movement. and personality within the movement itself. While many black leaders criticized racial hierarchies in the dominant society. According to Ransby (2003) ” In Baker‟s view. the SCLC was entrenched in a middle politics of respectability and overly concerned for how they appeared to white audiences. In this particular period of history the church functions not only as a place of moral instruction and thus value formation but also a place of skill building. King was born into an elite Atlanta family and was groomed for the ministry.13 Bakers group centered leadership which focused on empowering persons to be their own leaders.” Much like the NAACP. Much of the friction between Baker and King is rooted in their leadership styles and the formation of their values in the Black Church as an institution. they recreated hierarchies based on class. Within the Church clergy are often referred to as shepherds alluding to divine authority but also a responsibility for their charges. While Baker was also born in to a relatively elite circumstance as a woman she was groomed to assume the respectability of a lady and serve in quietude and humility indicating a responsibility to others.

14 manifests as Kings charismatic great man and Baker‟s group centered transformational leadership (Barnett. and in Southern Baptist churches women's place was „in the pew‟ and „out of the pulpit‟” in addition to idea that it was felt women would be less respected by white opposition and less palatable to sympathetic white audiences. 1996) (Ransby. women were expected to adhere to the adage that they should be seen. The first because the women knew that without their work the infrastructure if not the movement itself would crumble denoting an understanding of the power they wielded even if unacknowledged by their male peers. Barnett (1993) notes that “…in the Southern social structure of the 1950s. Nevertheless Baker still managed to form grassroots connections with the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) who had the largest based of poor member of any other racial justice organization headed by Fred Shuttleworth a well-known militant firebrand. 2003). The second is that they sincerely believed that racism was simply the more important battle. 1993) (Elliott. 1996) (Nance. Louisiana who also worked closely with working class and poor communities. Given the working conditions which Payne (1989) cites Baker as saying during her tenures as the acting executive director of the SCLC she worked out of her purse and phone booth rather than a proper office in addition to the SCLC depending upon her network Baker likely reasoned along the same lines. not heard.O. Stimpkins in Shreveport. the United Christian Movement (UCM) headed by C. In Baker work with the SCLC as Ransby (2003) note she worked to carry out various programs around voter registration and establishing respectful treatment in public establishments. Nance (1996) offers two suggestions as to why this sexist behavior was tolerated by women workers in the civil rights. It is important to note the sexism that Baker and other women workers with the SCLC and civil rights movement as a whole appears to be this glaring oversight however it can also be explained through the gender ideology of the Black Church. and .

the spontaneous decentralized movement that came to the limelight. the SCEF and SCLC set out to hold a set of hearings to pressure the enforcement of the 1957 civil rights act entitled “The Voteless Speak”. Baker‟s most clear break with the SCLC manifested in a speech on June 5th 1959 for the ACMHR where Baker affirms a basic right to self-defense and questions nonviolence as a tactic in the face of extreme violence as was experienced by Black communities in the south. speaker. The differing leadership strategies of King and Baker are evident here. and strategist to these grassroots organization and their dedication to empowerment (Ransby. In the aftermath of the Sit In movement a highly confrontational form direct action which spread from city through networks of friends and family being organized and planned on the local level Baker sought to sustain the momentum and energy of the Sit In movement and so the Southwide Student Leadership Conference on Nonviolent Resistance to Segregation was . 2003). 1989) (Ransby. 2003). This is significant as this was as King was returning from India affirming a practice of nonviolence in the tradition of Gandhi. This movement grew into SNCC in which Baker‟s vision of the transformational group centered leadership would be realized (Payne. 2003). King‟s embrace of nonviolence suited the middle class Christian politic of respectability in which his leadership represented. These relationship are significant because they represent Baker remaining true to her values of group centered transformational leadership by partnering with and lending her skills as an organizer. In a joint venture and Baker‟s last major action as member of the SCLC.15 the Southern Conference Education Fund (SCEF) an interracial organization working for racial justice headed by Carl and Anne Braden. While who was more widely connected to the working class and the poor who bore the brunt for racial injustice questioned nonviolence as a tactic in the face of violence and terror that middle class persons were less likely to encounter (Ransby.

The students at the conference formed SNCC with Baker as it advisor. They debated for hours. because of her experiences with older racial justice organizations took great care to insure that that the students remained uninfluenced. She asked questions and the students discovered answers. Baker suggested that they use both tactics. As Payne (1989) writes. Baker guided them to solutions. If someone remained quiet for too long. When the organization debated the merits of a voter registration drive versus direct action. Her knowledge of people and resources was especially helpful to students who needed to connect with organizations and families in the South…” Baker‟s relatable nature and ability to speak the language of the young organizers is impressive given that she at his time in the 1960 was many years their senior at nearly 60 years of age. “Baker was fond of using the Socratic Method. Baker would engage the person in conversation and then announce to the group that he or she had something to say. She spoke their language (Dallard. Elliot (1996) writes.16 organized. Baker. She . Baker was also instrumental in preventing a split in the organization over whether SNCC should pursue voting registration which was indirect action in contrast with the direct action confrontations like the sit ins that brought them all together. rather than dictate policy. 1990). and meetings could last for days. As an advisor Baker used her extensive networks of contacts to provide these students with the necessary experience to accompany their desire for direct action. Baker structured the conference so that it would private away from the media so that they could not create leaders and spokespersons and shield the students from annexation by the NAACP and the SCLC by resigning her position from the SCLC and as Ransby (2003) notes reprimanding King and other SCLC leaders for what she perceived to be a plot to subsume the student movement. The students trusted her because.

1989) (Ransby. Much the same way she established grassroots connections during her tenure in the NAACP. Baker when to the smoke filled back rooms with the students. she talked strategy over ice cream sundaes. 2003). Through Baker‟s influence which included allowing the make mistakes such as when they un-invited Bayard Rustin for fear of losing a generous donation SNCC became a powerful movement that defied the old racial justice model of appealing to the professionals and the elites at the expense of regular person who bore the brunt of the burden of racism as Baker advocated decades earlier (Elliott. centralized power structures. Baker did this by not letting her status as an elder to prevent her from engaging with the student on their own turf. 1996) (Payne.17 was able to do this by establishing a sense of camaraderie. In Baker‟s work with the SNCC where she possessed significantly more influence she allowed the young activists to learn she connected with her network and she did not elevate herself above despite being significantly older than them. Though Baker worked within the NAACP and SCLC with their middle class politics. and refused special treatment. Even going so far as to directly challenge the leadership of these organizations and clashing with their policy directives. and gender biases she stayed true to her values of group based transformational leadership through her advocating for decentralized structures and the empowerment of the rank and file. . Ella Baker exemplified through her decades of work in pursuit of racial justice an ideal of empowerment and personal connections in order to inspire the necessary motivation for people not only be their own leaders but to brave danger and uncertainty of physical and economic reprisals. Ella Baker values and belief that strong people do not need strong leaders makes her truly a transformational leader.

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