Happy Women’s History Month! This is the 1st blog of a series of blogs called “Women’s History Month Heroes You Should Know”. This series will be a collection of my research into little-known American women who have made history in one way or another (or multiple ways!).
The focus of today’s blog is Ella Baker, prominent civil rights activist and the founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or the SNCC.
This is her story.
A Grandmother’s Influence
According to ellabakercenter.org, Ella Jo Baker was born in 1903 in Norfolk, Virginia, but spent her childhood in North Carolina. Growing up, she spent a lot of time with her grandmother who had been enslaved. Baker’s passion for social justice began young through listening to not only the horrific treatment her grandmother had once suffered, but also her grandmother’s resilience.
University, Then NYC
With many aspirations for the future, Baker attended Shaw University located in Raleigh, NC. After spending her time there combatting unfair student policies, she graduated as the class valedictorian in 1927. After that, she moved to New York City where she joined the Young Negroes Cooperative League and involved herself in several women’s organizations. Her commitment was to economic justice for everyone.
Fighting Jim Crow Laws
In 1940, Baker joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and soon became a field secretary for the organization. A few years later, she became a branch director until 1946. After that, she founded the organization called In Friendship to fight against Jim Crow Laws in the deep South. Eventually, she moved to Atlanta to help Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference or SCLC. During this time, she also became active in advocating for Black voters’ rights.
Founding the SNCC
Inspired by the North Carolina A&T students who held the infamous 1960 Woolworth’s sit-in in Greensboro, Baker held a meeting with them at Shaw University. This meeting led to the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Together with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the SNCC organized the 1961 Freedom Rides, where civil rights activists challenged Jim Crow laws by riding interstate buses.
The SNCC ended up becoming one of the most influential human rights organizations in the U.S. Ella Baker continued to fight for racial equality until the day she passed in 1986. Although her story is not often told or heard, Ella Baker’s work with the SNCC, with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with the NAACP, and everything else makes her one of the most inspiring and influential figures of the time. The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights was established in her honor in 1996. Read more about Ella Jo Baker’s story here.
Read another post from the blog series “Women’s History Month Heroes You Should Know” here.