Ella Baker is a civil rights activist who was a crucial member of the black freedom movement in the 20th century. Baker worked with and inspired many different organizations including the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference led by Martin Luther King.
Baker was interested in inspiring people to take collective group action to overrule hatred, bigotry and violence targeted at black Americans. Raised in North Carolina, Ella Baker grew up listening to her grandmother's slave stories and this would inspire her to stay resilient in the face of adversity. She also valued economic justice and believed that people of all races must have work to do and be paid well enough to live comfortably. She is quoted as saying, "People cannot be free until there is enough work in this land to give everybody a job" notes the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.
She began working with the NAACP during the 1940s when the Jim Crow laws were preventing black Americans from voting and securing work. She then began working with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s organization in 1957 and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1960. She was a believer in Gandhi's "theory of nonviolent action" and used his theory to defeat many negative racial practices that hurt black Americans. Baker passed away on December 13, 1986, and left behind a legacy of collective action and leadership.