Ella Baker

African-American civil rights and human rights activist
A mural of Ella Baker (second from left)

Ella Baker (December 13, 1903 – December 13, 1986) was an African-American civil rights and human rights activist. She was a largely behind-the-scenes organizer whose career spanned more than five decades. She worked alongside some of the most famous civil rights leaders of the 20th century, including W. E. B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, A. Philip Randolph, and Martin Luther King Jr. She also mentored many emerging activists, such as Diane Nash, Stokely Carmichael, Rosa Parks, and Bob Moses.


  • Remember, we are not fighting for the freedom of the Negro alone, but for the freedom of the human spirit, a larger freedom that encompasses all mankind.
  • Until the killing of black men, black mothers' sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother's son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens. (1964)
    • Grant, Joanne, film, Fundi: The Story of Ella Baker (Icarus Films, 1981)
  • The development of the individual to his highest potential for the benefit of the group.
    • The Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader: documents, speeches and firsthand accounts from the Black Freedom Struggle, 1954–1990, ed. Clayborne Carson et al. (Penguin Books, 1991), p. 121.
  • Strong people do not need strong leaders.
  • "You didn't see me on television, you didn't see news stories about me," she told two writers, Ellen Cantarow and Susan Gushee O'Malley. "The kind of role that I tried to play was to pick up pieces or put together pieces out of which I hoped organization might come. My theory is, strong people don't need strong leaders."
    • The New York Times, Obituary, by C. Gerald Fraser, December 17, 1986

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