Ella Josephine Baker

Photograph of Ella Baker speaking at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, August 1964. The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

Who was Ella Baker?

Ella Baker was an African American activist that took a captivating role in the human rights movement and civil rights movement, alongside some of history’s most famous leading figures such as Bayard Justin, and Martin Luther King Jr. She was a person that wanted to ignite change by revealing the power and potential of each individual allowing them to fortify their communities and society. Due to her contribution to the civil rights movement, she has inspired and motivated both men and women all over the world to fight for their rights and the opportunities they deserve. She was given the honor of being named "The Mother of the Civil Rights Movement" while also becoming a world renowned leading figure to this day.

“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…” - Ella Jo Baker

Early Life

Baker was born on December 13, 1903, in Norfolk, Virginia. She grew up in North Carolina, where she developed a sense for social justice early on, due in part to her grandmother's stories about life under slavery. A granddaughter of slaves who graduated valedictorian from Raleigh’s Shaw University in 1927, Baker spent nearly half a century raising the political consciousness of Americans. Often challenging the policies in her college, she was actively involved with several women’s organizations. She helped launch the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), under the presidency of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She ran its Atlanta, Georgia, office and served as the organization's acting executive director; however, she also clashed with Dr. King and other male leaders of the SCLC, who allegedly were not used to receiving pushback from such a strong-willed woman, before exiting the organization in 1960. However during her time in SCLC she had managed to organize the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to give her support to rising student activists.