Jewish Women in Civil Rights - Elaine DeLott Baker
Elaine DeLott was born in 1942, the third of three daughters in a working class Jewish family living in a predominantly Catholic suburb of Boston. In the summer of 1964, while a student at Radcliffe College, she joined a group of Harvard graduate students who went to teach at Tougaloo College, a historically black college in Jackson, Mississippi. She taught school and began community organizing during her year in Mississippi. She traveled extensively in Mississippi as a resource person for the Council of Federated Organization's federal programs project, conducting what could be considered some of the earliest welfare rights organizing. From March to May 1965, she worked in Batesville, MS helping local farmers to organize a cooperative to market the okra they grew; federal poverty funds financed the project.
After working with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Baker moved to New York to teach and work with children of color. She and her husband (a musician who was part of the rock and roll and jazz scene) moved to San Francisco and then to Colorado, raising two children and working with rural communities for the next twenty years. She studied for a doctorate in Educational Leadership and Innovation at the University of Colorado. Today, Baker directs a workplace learning program for entry level workers through the Community College of Denver.
Elaine DeLott Baker was born in Winthrop, Massachusetts, in 1942. Three of her four grandparents were from Eastern Europe. Issues of class, social mobility, and respectability were fraught with tensions for first- and second-generation American Jews. Elaine's father dropped out of school in the eighth grade to help support his family and worked as a plumber's helper. In addition, because his mother had been unable to provide for him, he had spent some of his childhood in an orphanage.
Elaine relates the northern Jewish communities' disapproval of her father not moving quickly enough into the middle class and how it influenced her to join the civil rights movement: "Even as a first-generation American, he was expected by his culture to achieve a status higher than a laborer. Within the Jewish community, my father was a failure." Baker's early sensitivity to categorizing people based on wealth "contributed heavily to my emerging sense of social justice."