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Black Activists - Ella Baker

Updated on February 21, 2012

"Remember, we are not fighting for the freedom of the Negro alone, but for the freedom of the human spirit a larger freedom that encompasses all mankind.” – Ella Baker

Ella Baker was born December 13, 1903 in Norfolk, Virginia and died December 13, 1986 in New York, New York. Baker grew up listing to her grandmother’s stories of slave revolts and the struggle of the slaves. These stories helped Baker to form her political views and principles. Baker brought her skills and principles to the major civil rights organizations of the mid-20th century. Even though Baker worked behind the scenes in these organizations she was a civil rights and human rights activist for over five decades and worked alongside the most famous civil rights leaders.


Ella Baker graduated as valedictorian fromShawUniversity. After graduating she searched for employment inNew York Cityand found the repercussions of the Great Depression. During this time she was introduced to radical political activism and never looked back. Baker first helped to organize the Young Negroes Cooperative League for social improvement. From there Baker would work for several civil rights groups; NAACP, SCLC, SNCC and SCEF. With each and every organization Baker would bring her best. Baker was great at organizing, recruiting members and all the important background work that keeps the organization running.


Ella Baker started as a secretary with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). As a secretary Baker was a recruiter, raised money and helped to organize different activities within the organization. After a few years Baker became the director of branches where she was the highest ranking woman in the organization. Baker was a very outspoken woman with strong beliefs and a respect of others; this made her the perfect person to recruit for the NAACP. Baker focused on the bringing young people and women into the organization which made the organization that much stronger.

Southern Christian Leadership Conference

After the Montgomery Bus Boycott Ella Baker went to Atlanta, Georgia to help develop a new organization; the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was formed. The first project was a voter registration campaign and Baker was the first staff person. Baker used this platform to understand the local grievances people were experiencing so that SCLC could coordinate reform efforts. Martin Luther King Jr. was the president of SCLC and Baker was the director.

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

Because of the sit-ins led by black college students and to help student leaders of college activist groups organize, Ella Baker left SCLC to work with SNCC. Baker worked with SNCC for a long time and was one of the highly revered adult advisors. During her time at SNCC Baker helped coordinate the freedom rides with Congress of Racial Equality. . Baker also worked closely with black sharecroppers and others throughout the South. With Baker SNCC became one of the foremost advocates for human rights in the country.

Southern Conference Education Fund

Ella Baker worked on the staff of the Southern Conference Education Fund (SCEF). SCEF was an organization that tried to help black and white people work together for social justice. Baker’s focus was on the importance of linking civil rights and civil liberties. During this time Baker was a speaker and helped to co-host several meetings. Again Baker brought her brilliance to this organization.

Ella Baker worked behind the scenes throughout her career in civil rights. Baker worked for several civil rights organizations alongside just as many famous civil rights leaders. Baker did not stop there she continued to fight for the rights of others working on several campaigns and causes. Baker was an activist until her death, never ceasing to fight for what she believed in.


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