Ella Baker

civil rights activist
Born: 12/13/1903
Birthplace: Norfolk, Va.

Baker was a driving force in the creation of the country's premier civil rights organizations. After graduating as valedictorian from North Carolina's Shaw University in 1927, Baker moved to New York City, where she encountered dire poverty, the result of the depression. She was a founding member of the Young Negroes Cooperative League, whose members pooled funds to buy products and services at reduced cost.

Baker joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1935 as a field secretary and later served as a national director. She scaled back her national responsibilities with the group in 1946 and worked at the local level to improve and integrate New York City's schools.

In 1957 Baker and several Southern black ministers and activists established the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a major force in organizing the civil rights movement. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. served as the group's first president and Baker as the director. She mainly worked behind the scenes, while King assumed the role as spokesman. Baker left the group in 1960, when she helped students organize the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) at her alma mater, Shaw University. The committee gave young blacks a more organized voice in the civil rights movement.

Baker died in 1986, on her 83rd birthday.

Died: 1986

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