Ella Josephine Baker (1903–1986) was an African American civil rights and human rights activist whose career spanned over five decades. Ella worked with some of the most famous civil rights leaders of her time, including W. E. B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, and Martin Luther King Jr. She also had an influence on the future of the civil rights movement after her time, mentoring Diane Nash, Stokely Carmichael, Rosa Parks and Bob Moses.
As a girl, Baker listened to her grandmother tell stories about slave revolts. Her grandmother had been whipped for refusing to marry a man chosen for her by the slave owner. As a student, Baker challenged school policies that she thought were unfair.
Baker immersed herself in the cultural and political milieu of Harlem in the 1930s. The Harlem Renaissance influenced Baker in her thoughts and teachings. She advocated for wide-spread, local action as a means of change. Her emphasis on a grass roots approach to the struggle for equal rights influenced the success of the modern Civil Rights Movement.
You didn’t see me on television, you didn’t see news stories about me. The kind of role that I tried to play was to pick up pieces or put together pieces out of which I hoped organization might come. My theory is, strong people don’t need strong leaders. From “Women in the Civil Rights Movement”, pp. 51.
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 on Wikipedia
- “The Women Behind the Men” by Gail Collins
- Image of Ella Baker courtesy Wikimedia Commons
KeriLynn Engel is an autodidact and women’s history buff who founded Amazing Women in History in 2011.