Ella Josephine Baker 1903 - 1986
“People cannot be free until there is enough work in this land to give everybody a job.” – Ella Josephine Baker
Those familiar with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) should know the name Ella Jo Baker. Baker was a Civil Rights hero who fought for laborers and workers rights. But most importantly, the SNCC may not have existed if not for Bakers vision and leadership.
Baker coordinated the founding SNCC conference, which was held at her school, Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. Baker was a stellar student Shaw, earing class valedictorian upon graduating in 1927. Baker then left The South for New York, to engage in Civil Rights activism.
In New York, Baker worked with the Young Negroes Cooperative League, a group that committed resources to building black economic power. From this position, Baker began working with the NAACP as a field secretary and later as a Director of Branches.
She then moved to Atlanta to work alongside Dr. King and develop the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
Baker and Dr. King disagreed on the direction of the youth movement. Dr. King hoped the youth inspired by the sit-ins would strengthen the SCLC and operate as an extension of that organization. Baker had other ideas, namely, how to help the youth marshal their activist energy.
Lesser known about Baker is the creation of SNCC.
Baker thought it best for young black leaders to form their own organization. She wanted to preserve the foundation of rooting efforts in nonviolent protest but also galvanize youth driven action. Baker used her experience as Executive Secretary for SCLC and Director of Branches with the NAACP to prepare the newly created SNCC for the struggle ahead. Her message was empowerment, social justice, economic justice, and the youth followed Ella Jo Baker’s lead.