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In Defense of Ourselves: Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement

April 30, 2019

Written by Sarah Militz-Frielink, Ph.D. and Tracy Kent Gload

https://www.zinnedproject.org/materials/baker-ella/

Intended Audience

Elementary Education Students 4th and 5th grade

A Learning Series based on the book We who Believe in Freedom: The Life and Times of Ella Baker by Lea E. Williams

Until the killing of black men, black mother’s son becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest. –Ella Baker

Overview

This lesson plan explores the political activism of Ella Baker, which spanned from 1930 to 1980. The lessons begin with the people and experiences in Ella Baker’s childhood who had a profound influence on her involvement in the Black freedom movement.  Elementary education students will learn about several key aspects in Ella Baker’s activism and life.  From her birth in Norfolk, Virginia to her childhood in Littleton, North Carolina, her role in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and her years in the NAACP, students will demonstrate knowledge about Ella Baker’s multiple leadership roles and her commitment to racial, social, and economic justice. 

Scope and Sequence: Students will read We who Believe in Freedom: The Life and Times of Ella Baker by Lea E. Williams. In literature circles, students will discuss events, answer comprehension questions, and create notes about Ella Baker’s various leadership roles in the civil rights movement. In addition, students will discuss events, answer comprehension questions, and create notes about the importance of Ella Baker’s contributions to racial, social, and economic justice from 1930 to 1980. With the sequence of Ella Baker’s life and activism in mind, Students will identify some of the key events that shaped the focus of the Black Freedom Movement.

Common Core standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.1
Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.2
Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.10
By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, at the high end of the grades 4-5 text complexity band independently and proficiently.

Objectives

Students will outline Ella Baker’s various leadership roles in the Black Freedom Movement.

Students will discuss events, answer comprehension questions, and write notes about the importance of Ella Baker’s contributions to racial, social and economic justice from the 1930 to the 1980. 

Students will identify key events that shaped the focus of the Black Freedom Movement. 

Teacher Preparation and Background Knowledge

Teachers would benefit from reading Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement by Barbara Ransby in preparation for this lesson.

Day 1- Day 5

Students will form Literature Circles to read and discuss the book We who Believe in Freedom: The Life and Times of Ella Baker.  In Literature Circles, students will take turns reading aloud, facilitating the discussion and taking notes. 

Literature Circles

  1. Break students up into groups of four and assign them the following roles to assist in the reading of We who Believe in Freedom: The Life and Times of Ella Baker

Note taker

Reader 1

Facilitator

Reader 2

  • After each chapter students can switch roles so every student has a chance to be the facilitator, reader, note taker, etc.

Literature Circles Reading Guide for We who Believe in Freedom: The Life and Times of Ella Baker

After chapter 1, Growing up in the South, the facilitator will ask the following questions: Where did Ella Baker grow up? What was the name of Ella Baker’s home church? What was Grandfather Ross’s nickname for Ella? Why did the tenant farmers end up poor?

After chapter 2, School Days, the facilitator will ask the following questions: Explain the difference between white schools and black schoolhouses in Ella Baker’s rural farming community. Where did Ella Baker’s parents send her in 1917? What was her first petition about? During her junior year, Ella Baker and a large group of other students refused to take which examination? Despite her acts of rebellion against authority, what did Ella Baker accomplish in 1927?

After chapter 3, Making her Own Way, the facilitator will ask the following questions: What was the most important influence in Ella Baker’s life? Which speakers did Ella Baker listen to during the Harlem Renaissance?

After chapter 4, Harlem on her mind, the facilitator will ask the following questions: What were some of Ella Baker’s experiences in New York when she first arrived? What was George Schulyer’s idea to help ease poverty and the Great Depression? What did Ella Baker and her friends create as a result of Schulyer’s idea? In 1934, why did the Harlem branch library hire Ella Baker? Who did Ella Baker meet at the YMCA?

After chapter 5, The NAACP Years, the facilitator will ask the following questions: In 1940, the NAACP hired Ella Baker to fulfill what job? Within three years, the NAACP promoted Ella Baker to what post? As a result of Ella Baker’s promotion, how did the NAACP do as an organization? What was a common word used to describe Ella Baker at the NAACP?

After chapter 6, SCLC Keeps the Protest Spirit Alive, the facilitator will ask the following questions: What happened on May 17, 1954? What happened on December 1, 1955? Why was the Montgomery Improvement Association established? What does the SCLC stand for and what does it mean to the people who founded it? What were some of the civil right events that SCLC coordinated with the help of Ella Baker? What was challenging about Ella Baker’s relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?

After chapter 7, The Birth of SNCC, the facilitator will ask the following questions: How were Black people affected by the Jim Crow laws? Give examples of how students reacted to the Jim Crow laws. What happened at the Woolworth’s lunch counter? What did Ella Baker say about the reactions of NAACP and SCLC to the students’ independent sit-in movement? How did Baker agree to help the students? What did Ella Baker provide to SNCC at the Atlanta Headquarters to help them?

After chapter 8, Mentoring the Sit-in Students, the facilitator will ask the following questions: What did Jean Wiley say about Ella Baker after her first SNCC meeting? As a founding member and third national chairman for SNCC, how did John Lewis assist Ella Baker with SNCC? How did Joanne Grant’s friendship with Ella Baker begin at SNCC? Who were some of the other gifted and capable women that Ella Baker mentored through SNCC?

After chapter 9, A New Mission for a New Day, the facilitator will ask the following questions: After the first wave of lunch counter sit-ins, what strategy did SNCC execute with the help of Ella Baker? What happened in Mississippi to the freedom fighters after they tested their strategy? As a testimony to Ella Baker’s influence in their lives and later career choices, name the SNCC leaders who became national leaders?

After chapter 10, The Black Power Struggle within SNCC, the facilitator will ask the following questions: In 1966, when Stokely Carmichael unseated John Lewis as the chairman of SNCC, what was the primary debate? How did the students resolve this debate? What is the black power ideal? What did Ella Baker do to help SNCC during these debates? Although Baker’s relationship with SNCC eroded as Black Power Advocates took control, she never severed her connection completely, name some of the other projects that she focused on.

After chapter 11, Standing for Something, the facilitator will ask the following questions: Rather than seeking high paying jobs, Ella Baker seized opportunities to do what? Give examples of how Ella Baker continued her advocacy for social justice even in her older years. Explain the many ways that Ella Baker has been honored since her death in 1986?

Day 6

Wrapping it all up

Upon completion of the book and the literature circles, students will break up into groups of four to fill out a chart that summarizes Ella Baker’s key contributions to the Black Freedom Movement. Students can use notes taken from the literature circles to help fill out the chart. 

Large Group Discussion

Have students sit in a large circle. Use the completed charts for inspiration and discuss the meaning of “In Defense of Ourselves: Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement.” Ask students to share Ella Baker’s contributions to social, economic, and racial justice.

Ella Baker’s Key Contributions to the Black Freedom Movement
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

copyright 2019

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