WMU News

Lecture focuses on unsung civil rights hero

March 10, 2005

KALAMAZOO--A nationally known historian will give a free public lecture on "Ella Baker as an Activist and Intellectual" from 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 15, in Room 208 of the Bernhard Center on Western Michigan University's main campus in Kalamazoo.

The lecture by Dr. Barbara Ransby, associate professor of history and African-American studies at the University of Illinois, Chicago, will be the keynote presentation at the WMU School of Social Work's annual Whitney Young Jr. Scholars Award Program.

Ransby's work has been published in academic journals as well as in the news media, and she is a regular contributor to the Chicago Public Radio program "Eight Forty-Eight." Her biography of unsung civil rights hero Ella Jo Baker, titled "Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision," has won national recognition.

From 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 16, Ransby will speak on "Revisiting Dr. King's Unfinished Agenda: Curing Our Collective Amnesia About the Civil Rights Movement" in an address at the North Presbyterian Church, 603 N. Burdick St. in Kalamazoo. Earlier that day, she will give a private talk at Bangor High School.

Baker, an activist and advocate for more than 50 years, was one America's most influential and important individuals in the battle for social justice. She is most remembered for her tireless efforts to reduce racial injustice and attain civil-rights for African-Americans, working with such civil-rights leaders as W.E.B. DuBois, Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King Jr.

In the 1930s, Baker led demonstrations against lynching, colonialism and fascism in Harlem. She went on to become a legendary organizer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the first director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She also organized and campaigned for the cause of the poor, Chicanos, and women; protested the Vietnam War; defended the Puerto Rican Independence movement; and lobbied against South African apartheid.

The School of Social Work established the Whitney Young Jr. Scholars Award Program in 1971 as a memorial to Young, an internationally known social worker who died that year. Young was the convocation speaker at the school's dedication in 1968 while he was serving as president of the National Association of Social Workers and at the time of his death, was the executive director of the National Urban League.

Ransby's visit to the Kalamazoo area is being sponsored by WMU's Center for the Study of Ethics in Society, School of Social Work and GEAR UP Project in the College of Education.

For more information, contact Dr. W.F. Santiago-Valles at santiago.valles@wmich.edu or (269) 387-2561. Ransby's autobiography of Baker is available for purchase in the WMU Bookstore.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, 269 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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