The Champions Who Walked Among Us – Article 16 – The Grass Rooter
The United States had just entered the third year of the twentieth century when this infant girl opened her eyes in Norfolk, Virginia.
The year: 1903
The month: December
The Day: the 13th
Little did she know that the quiet soul of one of America’s famous freedom fighters would depart life’s stage nine years, two months and twenty-eight days, after her entry on earth. Neither did she know she would develop into a role similar to that of an earthworm, which converts organic matter into humus and improves the fertility of the soil.
Like the earthworm, this baby would deliberately work the underground with her beliefs, with her philosophy as she reached out to ordinary people to help them to understand the system in opposition to the leaders of her time. She gave people insight into the meticulous workings of democracy and proclaimed that strong people were more valuable than having one strong leader. Raised up to educate enrich the soil necessary for advancement, she would become The Grass Rooter.
At the age of seven, her parents decided to move the family back to her mother’s hometown, a small rural area in Littleton, North Carolina.
It was here that the young girl was prepared for her purpose in life,
- As she sat at the feet of grandmother listening to historical events that she had lived through,
- As her attention was captivated by the woman, when she talked about the degradation received through being whipped because of her refusal to marry her master’s choice of husband,
- As she learned the unknown history of people that had not been recorded in the history books.
Here, her hunger was satisfied for knowledge of the past, and her thirst was quenched as she waited on her future. The Grass Rooter incubated in the soil and grew in wisdom.
Because she saw the problem, The Grass Rooter began her work. It had been played out before her eyes while living in North Carolina. She had a solution and was not unafraid to share it. The Grass Rooter believed firmly that the success of any nation rested upon the people at the bottom understanding the processes of legislation and government because the strength of any nation comes from the ground up and not from the top down. Thus, she strove to inform and educate. The Grass Rooter stretched her arms out to all. It was never a black/white issue with her.
“We are not fighting for the freedom of the Negro alone, but for the freedom of the human spirit, a larger freedom that encompasses all mankind.”(1)
Opposition came as is expected when it comes to educating the masses. Many leaders reacted to this new way of thinking. They belittled the intelligence of the people by insisting that they must be led instead of taught. However, The Grass Rooter did not let this stop her: she increased her efforts and expanded her influence. She was one of the main proponents of Participatory Democracy.
1940, her election as a secretary with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) pivoted her into a position where she could help people. She traveled throughout the South, knocking on doors, recruiting people, and implementing plans that mobilized the masses. Her hard work paid off.
In 1943, she was elected as the director of the branches. The first woman to hold this position, but her stance against elitism brought her face-to-face confrontation with the male leaders of the organization. Outspoken about her beliefs and her egalitarian ideas, she forced the leadership to decentralize its structure.
1957, The Grass Rooter traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, the home of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, better known to some as the SCLC. Black ministers of the South had come together to initiate change within the society they were living in. She quickly earned the reputation as an organizer. The success of the Voter Registration Campaign in the South is mainly due to her organizational skills. However, three years of working with the SCLC showed her that her ideas were far beyond comprehension for the male leadership: She left the organization in 1960.
How do you react when you realize the withholding of knowledge causes the ignorance of the people?
Would you work behind the scenes without any recognition and educate others?
1960, The Grass Rooter became involved with students from the South who had decided that enough was enough.
- City: Greensboro, North Carolina.
- Location: F. W. Woolworth
- Target: the lunch counter where so many black college students were allowed to work but not to sit down and eat.
Four college students challenged the Jim Crow laws practiced within the state, and the Grass Rooter rose to the pinnacle of her crowning moment as an activist. She pushed the SCLC to listen to these students and support them in their step of defiance. Out of this protest, The Students for Non Violent Coordinating Committee better known as SNCC was born.
Wow, what a woman!
What dedication to her calling!
Wherever there was a need to bring understanding to the people, regardless of whether it was,
- The NAACP,
- The Voter Registration in the South,
- The organization of the SCLC,
- The birth of the SNCC,
- Speaking out against Apartheid in South Africa,
- Standing up for the Puerto Rican Freedom movement,
- Support for the International Women Movement for Freedom and Peace,
The Grass Rooter, the woman who believed in Social Change starting at the grassroots was somewhere in the background laying down fundamental principles that still apply today.
Ms. Ella Baker, the controversial woman
- That was not keened on the elite
- That was wary of anyone who was not willing to educate the people at the bottom,
Was willing to be a vessel of oil that poured out into the lives of others. She was The Grass Rooter.
The year was 1986, the month December, the date: the 13th and The Grass Rooter, Ms. Ella Baker, eighty-three years old and still excelling in her call, still fulfilling her purpose in life was getting ready to celebrate her birthday. Instead of celebrating, she heard the trumpet blow. It was time for her to Walk On.
Can’t you see her people? She heard the call on her birthday; eighty-three years later, and Ms Ella Baker Walked On!
Can’t you see her as she smiled and looked behind her at her legacy?
“What did you do, Ms. Ella Baker?
Tell me, what did you do?” asked the Prophet.
“Not much,” said the woman. “Not much.
Just organized the NAACP,
Educated and informed the masses,
Stopped over in Atlanta and organized the SCLC,
Went to the country towns down there in the South,
And set up Voter registration so it could move effectively.
Listened to the Students in Greensboro North Carolina,
Helped them to get support,
Marched with the Puerto Rican Freedom Movement,
Stuck my nose into the International Women Movement,
Kept my hands busy by standing up against Apartheid.
Not much,” she said, “Not much.”
The Prophet laughed and asked, “Is that all?”
Ms. Ella Baker, The Grass Rooter, the Proponent of Social Change, the Activist that reached out to the people at the bottom, looked back at The Prophet and said with a bit of humor in her voice, “That’s all,” Prophet. “That’s all.”
She Walked on people, Ms. Ella Baker Walked on!
Don’t tell me you can’t fulfill your purpose in life,
Sure it may be hard,
It may be that you aren’t recognized,
And no one knows you exist.
But fulfill your purpose in life.
Sooner or later,
You will rise.
Walk on People, I say, Walk On!