Ella Baker

Ella Baker

1903-1986

Ella Baker played a key role in many of the influential civil rights organizations of her day. Her grandmother was an early inspiration to Ella for her future activism. As an enslaved person, she chose a whipping rather than marrying the man her owner chose for her.  

After graduating from college Baker moved to NYC and in 1930 joined several women’s organizations as well as social activism organizations like the Young Negros Cooperative League. From 1940 to 1955, Baker worked for the NAACP to raise money and then served as branch director. By 1955, she co-founded In Friendship to fight against Jim Crow laws, raising funds to aid the South’s civil rights struggle. The Montgomery Bus Boycott led to the creation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which she also co-founded as a way to help other communities boycott transportation.  

As college students became involved in the civil rights movement through various boycotts and sit-ins, Baker supported the idea of a student-run organization. In 1960, she organized a meeting at Shaw University for the student leaders who participated in restaurant sit-ins, events that were used to protest the denial of service to Blacks.  Baker helped create and acted as an advisor of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which organized more sit-ins and the Freedom Riders in the early 1960s that helped end segregation. That same year, Ella helped organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) which assisted in registering Black voters despite the roadblocks state officials put in their path. Fighting against the complex and unfair literacy tests used to deter black voters was one of the reasons she remained an activist until her death at 83.