ELLA BAKER Biography - Activists, Revolutionaries and other freedom fighters


Biography » activists revolutionaries and other freedom fighters » ella baker


Ella Jo Baker was born on December 13, 1903, in     
Norfolk, Virginia. She developed a sense for       
social justice early in her life. As a girl         
growing up in North Carolina, Baker listened to     
her grandmother tell stories about slave           
revolts. As a slave, her grandmother had been       
whipped for refusing to marry a man chosen for     
her by the slave owner.                             
Baker studied at Shaw University in Raleigh,       
North Carolina. As a student she challenged         
school policies that she thought were unfair.       
She graduated in 1927 as class valedictorian and   
then moved to New York City. Baker began joining   
social activist organizations. In 1930, she         
joined the Young Negroes Cooperative League. The   
League's purpose was to develop black economic     
power through collective planning. She also         
involved herself with several women's               
In 1940, Baker began her involvement with the       
NAACP. She worked as a field secretary and then     
served as director of branches from 1943 until     
1946. Inspired by the historic bus boycott in       
Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, Baker co-founded     
the organization In Friendship to raise money       
for the fight against Jim Crow Laws in the deep     
In 1957, Baker moved to Atlanta to organize         
Martin Luther King's new organization, the         
Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).   
She also ran a voter registration campaign         
called the Crusade for Citizenship.                 
On February 1, 1960, a group of black college       
students from North Carolina A&T University         
refused to leave a Woolworth's lunch counter in     
Greensboro, North Carolina where they had been     
denied service. Baker left the SCLC after the       
Greensboro sit-ins. She wanted to help the new     
student activists and organized a meeting at       
Shaw University for the student leaders of the     
sit-ins in April 1960. From that meeting SNCC       
was born. The organization adopted the Gandhian     
theory of nonviolent direct action. SNCC members   
joined with activists from the Congress of         
Racial Equality (CORE), a New York-based civil     
rights organization, in the 1961 Freedom Rides.     
In 1964 SNCC helped create Freedom Summer, an       
effort to focus national attention on               
Mississippi's racism and to register black         
With Ella Baker’s guidance and encouragement,       
SNCC became one of the foremost advocates for       
human rights in the country. Her influence was     
reflected in the nickname she acquired: “Fundi,”   
a Swahili word meaning a person who teaches a       
craft to the next generation.                       
Baker continued to be a respected and               
influential leader in the fight for human and       
civil rights until her death on December 13,       
1986, her 83rd birthday. This year marks the       
20th anniversary of her passing.