By: Leon Kwasi Kuntuo-Asare
Ella Josephine Baker was born on December 13, 1903 in Norfolk, Virginia. She was raised with her parents Georgiana and Blake Baker. At the age of 7, her family moved to her grandmother’s hometown of Littleton, North Carolina, a Small rural town. There she would hear great historic tales of courageous slave revolts, including the story of her maternal grandmother, Josephine Elizabeth “Bet” Ross, who was whipped by her master for refusing to marry a man, her master had chosen for her.
Baker would attend Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she would graduate as class valedictorian in 1927, during her college days, she also built a reputation for standing up against school policies that she believed to be unjust. After college she moved to New York City.
In 1931, Baker would join the young Negroes Cooperative League (YNCL) which was a group dedicated to black economic empowerment, she would soon raise to the rank of national director of the organization.
During the 1930’s Baker worked with the Worker’s Education Project of the Works Progress Administration , there taught classes in labor history, African history and consumer education. She would also immerse herself into the political atmosphere of the time, by protesting Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia and supporting the campaign to free the Scottsboro defendants in Alabama, a group of black youths, she believed were falsely accused of raping two white women. At around this time, Baker began to advocate for nationwide, local activism as a means of achieving political change.
Baker believed grassroots activism did not need charismatic leaders with a messiah complex, instead she believed and taught that the struggle should be fought by we the people in the streets, on a grassroots level.
In late 1940, Baker began working for the National Association for the Advancement of colored people (NAACP), where she first worked as a secretary, then soon began recruiting new members locally, raising money and organizing local events. She rose fast in the organization, and in 1945 was named Director of Branches.
In 1946 Baker returned to New York, to take care of her niece, which forced her to leave her leadership role in the NAACP. She would still continue to volunteer for the organization on a local level. She would soon join the New York chapter of the NAACP, where she worked hard to end segregation in public schools and police brutality against black people. In 1952 she would become president of the New York chapter.
Baker would resign from the organization in 1953 to run for New York City, city council as a member of the Liberal Party, she was unsuccessful in her bid for city office.
In 1957 Baker traved to Atlanta, Georgia to take part in a conference that was supposed to build on the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, in February of that same year, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was formed.
The organization’s aim was to unite black churches and their leaders, who fought against systematic white supremacy in the south, as they used nonviolent protests to fight against systematic white supremacy oppression. Baker was the organization’s first staff member, she soon began to organize voter registration, assist local activists with their local grievances, helping local civil rights activists in states like Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.
In 1960, Baker insisted the SCLC invite southern student protestors, who were having desegregation
sit-ins to Shaw University, for a youth civil rights conference, to discuss their struggles and go over possible solutions with the young activsts in attendance. At this meeting the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was created. SNCC would become the most active civil rights organization in the Delta region of the United States. After the conference, Baker would resign from the SCLC and would become an advisor to the SNCC activsts.
In 1964 Baker would help organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party ( MFDP) which was to be an alternative to the racist and all-white Mississippi party.
From 1962-1967 Baker worked as staff for the Southern Conference Education Fund (SCEF) , which was an interracial organization, that fought for social justice issues, human rights and fought against segregation.
In 1972 Baker Traveled the nation to give her support in the “Free Angela” campaign, the objective was to get justice for civil rights activist Angela Davis, whose supporters believed was targeted unlawfully by law enforcement for her political and activism activities.
Towards the end of her life, she still continued to support many causes including the Puerto Rican Independence Movement, she supported many women’s groups and spoke out against the brutally racist South African apartheid regime.
In 1986, on her 83rd birthday she died.
Cornel West thoughts on the great civil rights activist Ella Baker.
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BY: LEON KWASI KUNTUO-ASARE
Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr., was born on August 17, 1887, in St.Ann’s Bay , Jamaica , to Sarah Jane Richards and Marcus Mosiah Garvey Sr., he was the youngest of eleven children, but only Marcus and his sister Indiana would survive to adulthood.
Garvey’s father owned a massive personal library, it was from this library where a young Garvey would first be educated. The young Garvey would continue his early education at some of St.Ann’s Bay elementary schools, it would be at those schools, Garvey would experience racism for the first time in his life.
In 1907, while working in the printing industry, Garvey would get his first taste of political activism, when he took part in a printer’s strike, the strike was not a success , but it sparked his interest in politics and activism.
In 1910, Garvey would leave Jamaica and travel throughout central America, first working as a timekeeper on a banana plantation in Costa Rica, Garvey would move on to work as an editor for a newspaper called La Nacionale and then later that year in 1911, Garvey would move to Panama, where he edited a biweekly Newspaper.
Garvey would return to Jamaica in 1912.
From 1912 to 1914, Garvey would live in London, England , where he would attend Birkbeck College and take classes philosophy and law classes. Garvey would also work for the African Times and Orient Review, published by Duse Mohamed Ali. Garvey would also be influenced by many civil rights activists of his time and was a huge admirer of Booker T. Washington.
When Garvey returned to Jamaica in 1914, he would form the United Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A), a Pan-Africanist organization.
On March 23,1916, Garvey would arrive in the United States, his goal was to raise money doing lectures to help build a school in Jamaica, modeled after Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute. When Garvey first arrived in New York, he found a job as a printer. On May 9, 1916, Garvey would perform his first of many public lectures, eventually Garvey would go on a 38 state speaking tour.
In May 1917, Garvey and his 13 associates would form the United States’s branch of the U.N.I.A, and soon began to preach economic and social freedom for people of African descent, both living inside and outside of Africa.
In 1918 Garvey began to publish the Negro World Newspaper, the paper had a dual objective, to educate black people on News and events, in their community and and to help spread the message of the U.N.I.A and grow its membership.
By June 1919, the U.N.I.A’s membership had grown to a massive two million members. That same year the U.N.I.A’s incorporated the Black Star Line of Delaware and bought their first ship.
That same year, a assistant district attorney in New York, named Edwin P. Kilroe began investigating Garvey and the U.N.I.A, but no illegal acts could could be uncovered, so no charges were filed. But that would only be the beginning of a bitter relationship between Garvey and Kilroe. On October 14, 1919, a man named George Tyler, attempted to Assassinate Garvey, he shot at Garvey four times and wounded him in his right leg and the upper part of his head. George Tyler claimed A.D.A Edwin P. Kilroe sent him, but before his arraignment, George Tyler allegedly jumped from the third floor of a Harlem jail and committed suicide.
Later Garvey would create the Negro Factories Corporations, he developed the business with the intentions to manufacture everyday commodities, Garvey planned to have NFC branches in the United States, Central America, West Indies and Africa.
In 1919 J. Edgar Hoover, then a special Assistant to the Attorney General and the head of the General Investigative Division of the Bureau of Investigation, later to be renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), would open an investigation into the activities of Garvey and the U.N.I.A organization. The bureau hired its first five black agents to infiltrate Garvey’s movement. The aim was to find a reason to deport Garvey and to sabotage his U.N.I.A movement. Eventually they would charge Garvey on mail fraud in connections with stock of the Black Star Line, the accusations were that even though Garvey was in the process of buying the steamship on the BSL brochure, he did not own it at the time he placed it on the brochure, therefore it was in the court’s eyes it was fraud and he was convicted and sentenced to five years on June 23, 1923.
After prison, Garvey would continue his work for the black race, while based outside of the United States, in 1928 Garvey traveled to Geneva to present the “Petition of the Negro Race”, to the League of Nations (the precursor of the United Nations ), in that petition he outlined the abuse of people of African descent by western nations.
In September of 1929, Garvey would found Jamaica’s first modern political party, the People’s Political Party (PPP), its objective were to improve education, help end poverty and improve workers’ rights for black people living in Jamaica.
In 1935 Garvey left the Island of Jamaica for London, England, he would live there until his death on June 10, 1940, Garvey died at the age of 52, after suffering two strokes.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr. would influence future civil rights leaders like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. , and the first President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah.
The Rastafari consider Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr. to be a religious prophet.
The plaque outside of the home he died at.
Blue plaque, 53 Talgarth Road, London
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BY: LEON KWASI KUNTUO-ASARE
Martin Luther King Jr. Was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia to mother Alberta Williams King and Father Martin Luther King, sr.
He would attend Booker T. Washington High School, and after graduating early, he would attend Morehouse University, earning a B.A degree in sociology. After completing his studies at Morehouse University, King would continue his education, earning a Bachelor’s of Divinity, from Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania in 1951.
A couple years later , King would marry the beautiful and intelligent Coretta Scott, on June 18, 1953, they would have four children together, Yolanda King, Martin Luther king the 3rd, Dexter Scott King and Bernice King.
In 1955 King would begin to get involved in political and civil rights activism, when he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott and helped found the (SCLC) Southern Christian Leadership Conference, in 1957 , King served as the organization’s first president.
In 1963 King would help organize nonviolent protests in Birmingham, Alabama and would help organize the march on Washington, where he gave his famous “I have a dream” speech.
On October 14, 1964, because of his nonviolent activism against racism and inequality, he would receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1965 King would help organize the “Selma to Montgomery Marches”, and the next year King would take the SCLC to Chicago to work on ending segregated housing practices.
In the last few years of his life, King would focus his attention to ending poverty in America and he would speak out against the Vietnam war.
In 1968, While King was Organizing a National Occupation on Washington, D.C, to be called the “Poor People’s Campaign”, King would be assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee.
King would posthumously be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.
James Earl Ray would ultimately be charged and convicted of the murder of king, even though many people including King’s family believed he was only a scapegoat.
In 1999, the King family won a civil suit against the federal government, proving the took part in the conspiracy to kill King.
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