Ella Baker, born Dec. 13, 1903, in Norfolk, Va., was a prominent, behind-the-scenes figure in the Civil Rights Movement. Known most for her work alongside more famous leaders like W.E.B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, and Martin Luther King Jr., Baker inspired, mentored, and groomed some of the most up-front civil rights leaders and liberationists of the 20th century.
Her journey to leadership began as a child, when she listened to the stories her formerly-enslaved grandmother told her about slave revolts and the need to fight for justice.
Baker eventually attended college at Shaw University in Raleigh, where she challenged school politics and later graduated as class valedictorian in 1927. Upon graduation, she began a journalism career with American West Indian News; then she moved to become an editorial assistant at the Negro Nation News.
Baker also participated in several social justice organizations like the Young Negroes Cooperate League (1930), the NAACP (1940), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1957). She was also heavily involved with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
The dedicated activist invested her time and energy in nurturing students and scholars to lead Black people to salvation. Other noted activists she befriended and helped fulfill their potential include the legendary John Henrik Clarke and civil rights lawyer Pauli Murray.
“The major job was getting people to understand that they had something within their power that they could use, and it could only be used if they understood what was happening and how group action could counter violence …” Baker once stated.
She transitioned to eternity on her 83rd birthday in 1986.
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