ELLA BAKER, “ADDRESS AT THE HATTIESBURG FREEDOM DAY RALLY” (21 JANUARY 1964)
- Consider the context in which Baker gave her address and who was present in the audience. Do you feel Baker’s language and style were appropriate for the audience and situation? Explain why or why not. Also, reflect on whether this speech would be considered appropriate today in discussions of civil rights and equality.
- In her address, Baker argued: “We aren’t free until within us we have that deep sense of freedom.” From your own perspective, how would you define and describe a “deep sense of freedom?” Compose a list of things that you might consider essential to experiencing a “deep sense of freedom.”
- How would you describe Baker’s argumentation strategy? Do you think her arguments are complex, straightforward, or a combination of both? Do they focus on moral, natural, or political rights? How do her arguments contribute to the overall persuasiveness of her message?
- Baker discussed how white Americans acted in discriminatory ways because “they did not know any better.” Do you believe this choice in framing her argument was effective in her day? Why or why not? Would it be effective today? What is gained or lost in framing her argument in this way?
- What do you think Baker meant when she argued for “freedom of the human spirit?” Do you think her audience at the time understood what she meant? Do we hear similar arguments today from civic rights activists?
- Imagine that you are a civil rights organizer and activist in the 1960s. Compose and deliver a short speech that you would give before and audience of other activists. What arguments would you use to garner support and motivation in the fight for equality?
- From your reading of the speech, what do you think were the main emotions that Baker hoped to evoke in her audience? Identify parts in the speech that led you to your conclusions? Do you think the choices she made would be successful—why or why not?
- Look at one or two other speeches given by civil rights activists in the 1960s. Compare and contrast similarities and differences between these speeches. Focusing on differing audiences, contexts, or other aspects, can you explain these similarities and/or differences you have identified?
- Using a variety of research sources (websites, newspapers, academic articles, books, archives, documentaries, etc.), investigate what other issues, besides voting rights, were discussed by civil rights activists at the time of Baker’s speech. Does Baker address any of those other issues? Put another way, does Baker’s speech seem typical or unusual when compared to other speeches by civil rights leaders at the time?
- Ella Baker championed grassroots activism. How has grassroots activism changed today given the importance of the Internet, especially social media?
- How does learning about other, perhaps less famous leaders of the civil rights movement inform our understanding of civil rights activism? What can we learn from studying the iconic leaders, such as Martin Luther King, Jr.? What more can we learn by studying those who stood outside the spotlight, such as Ella Baker? Is it important to study both? Why?
- The voting rights rally that took place the day after Baker’s address included activists and community members gathering to encourage voter registration. Can you find other examples of this sort of activism in the 1960s? What about today? Do you think similar rallies still take place? Were they effective then? Are they still needed today?
- How did journalists cover voter registration events like Freedom Day in Hattiesburg? Search for newspaper coverage of this and similar events, and describe how the articles report and interpret the events. Are there similarities across the articles, or do they differ in how they cover such events?
- Using a variety of research resources (websites, newspapers, academic articles, books, archives, documentaries, etc.), see if you can discover other activists or activist groups with a leadership philosophy like Baker’s. Did other activists at the time advocate more democratic approaches to leadership? Were there others who resisted following the more famous, charismatic leaders of the civil rights movement?
- Have you observed instances of hashtag activism on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook? Notable examples include: #blacklivesmatter, #icebucketchallenge, #umbrellarevolution, #wearehere, and #icantbreathe. Familiarize yourself with several examples. Do you think hashtag activism is an effective strategy? Why or why not? Be sure to describe what might be gained or lost with such methods. Are there any parallels between today’s hashtag activism and the grassroots activism of the 1960s?
- Write a blog entry or op-ed column for a local newspaper that explains your views on race in America today.
- The “Ella Baker Center for Human Rights” (http://ellabakercenter.org/our-work) is an organization committed to building on Ella Baker’s legacy. Can you find other organizations with a similar mission that people could get involved with? How do the different groups compare and contrast to one another? Can you see any themes that correspond to Baker’s vision for organizing and fighting for equality?
- What social justice movements are most active in the United States today? How do the goals of these contemporary movements compare or contrast to the African American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s? Do these movements share any common themes with Baker’s message? Lastly, imagine if Baker were a member of one of today’s activist organizations. What organizations do you think she might join, and how do you think her involvement might impact the group?