Born in Norfolk, Virginia and growing up in North Carolina, Ella learned early on what it means to be black in the South. She would listen to stories her grandmother would tell about being a slave, and suffering a beating for refusing to marry a man her owner had picked for her.
Ella experienced success in school, studying at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina and graduating as a valedictorian in 1927. As a student she saw policies that were not fair and spoke out about them. Her interest in civil rights continued when she moved to New York City, where she joined the Young Negroes Cooperative League in 1930. The goal of the league was to gain economic advances for black people.
In 1940 Ella became active in the NAACP first as a field secretary and then as a director from 1943 to 1946. During that time the NAACP lobbied for the desegregation of the New York City public schools. As a catalyst and leader for change, Ella moved to Atlanta in 1957 to organize Martin Luther King's group called the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She also led a voter registration campaign named the Crusade for Citizenship.
She parted ways with the SCLC after two years feeling that the centralized leadership was unnecessary for local social protest demonstrations. She returned to Shaw University, her alma mater, to organize student sit-ins in 1960. That was when SNCC was created standing for Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She continued to be involved with that group as a quiet guide who would listen and encourage young activists, rather than orchestrate plans for them. The students greatly respected her and called her "Miss Baker". Ella Baker died on her
birth date in 1986 in New York City.
by Jane Harter
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