Giving the Movement Life
Black Women's Grassroots Activism
Because they were educated, Ella Baker and Septima Clark had relative access to the middle and upper classes among both African Americans and other groups in the United States. Notwithstanding financial and racial limits on their choices, the factor of education and the era in which they lived presented Baker and Clark professional and civic opportunities and access to travel that were unheard of for slave and free antebellum Black women, as well as for women of the Reconstruction era. Moreover, their education and access to the Black middle classes positioned them for their travel and work, while also making possible the nature of their civil rights contributions. In spite of these influences of social class, however, religious and ideological commitments stimulated Baker and Clark's activism as practices of racial uplift and social responsibility. Throughout their lives both Ella Baker and Septima Clark sought to improve circumstances of African Americans and organized and educated persons in efforts to change society. Emphasizing the importance of empowering the masses—local people—they conceived, carried out, and passed on values and practices that came to define and in some measure systematize programs of the Civil Rights Movement.
Because of their important role as architects of the Movement, Baker and Clark did not also manage and execute each strategy. As Clark once observed, "I was directing the work at Highlander, and that work took me into so many different places that I would not have the time to do the day-by-day teaching."1 The work of executing Movement strategies, like "day-by-day teaching" in citizenship schools, proceeded as other Movement participants engaged the