May 23, 2014 at 11:59 pm

General Gordon Baker Jr., Highland Park

Advocate for auto workers never backed away from fight for rights

Mr. Baker (Speakers For A New America)

General Baker wasnít afraid of a fight.

Unhappy with the way auto companies treated black workers, he was fired twice. Opposed to the Vietnam War, he refused to be drafted in 1965.

Angry at the Detroit City Councilís failure to pass a fair housing ordinance in 1963, he booed the National Anthem.

For half a century, he was a tireless advocate for other African-American autoworkers, even bumping heads with his own union as he pushed for blacks to hold leadership positions.

Alas, the general has fought his last battle.

He died Sunday from congestive heart failure at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. He was 72.

Friends and associates lauded him for an advocacy that bordered on the fearless.

ďHe leaves a rich and remarkable legacy,Ē said Rory Gamble, director of region 1A for the United Automobile Workers.

Gamble considered him a mentor, both for him personally and to anyone else fighting for what is fair and just.

General Gordon Baker Jr., who was born in Detroit and graduated from Southwestern High School, discovered black nationalism while he was a student at Wayne State University in the early 1960s.

Mr. Baker, who didnít graduate from Wayne State and later married, began working in the auto industry in the 1960s when he got a job at Dodge Main Plant in Hamtramck.

He didnít like what he found.

He felt issues related to black workers were being ignored, by the union and by the automaker.

He also didnít see any black faces among shop foremen and union executives.

He quickly formed the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement, which pushed to change the lot of African-American workers.

He also was managing editor of the movementís newspaper, ďInner City Voice.Ē

When change didnít come fast enough, he held in 1968 the first of several wildcat strikes, which werenít authorized by the union.

Mr. Baker was fired. It would be five years before he would be rehired and only when he applied for a job at the Ford Rouge Plant under a false name.

The Dodge revolutionary movement didnít last long but its influence would be felt for years to come.

Blacks eventually filled leadership slots with the UAW. Among them was Mr. Baker, who, at Rouge, became chairman of Local No. 600.

Mr. Baker is survived by his wife, Marian Kramer-Baker; a son, Justinn Bernard; seven daughters, Crystal Bernard, Heaven Bernard, Carolyn Baker of Detroit, Jacqueline Kramer of Royal Oak, Kadesha Baker of Ann Arbor, Yvette Ewing-Nichols of Chicago, and Zen Baker-Sheffield of Jacksonville, Fla.; two sisters, Carolyn Fletcher and Valerie Baker; and seven grandchildren.

His life will be celebrated by family and friends 4 p.m. Saturday at UAW Local 600 at 10550 Dix Ave. in Dearborn.

fdonnelly@detroitnews.com
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