The Civil Rights Movement would not have been possible without Ella Baker (1903-1986).
She is a monumental organizer and activist, who from a young age, called out and sought to fix “contradictions in what was said and what was done.”
She believed in truly democratic values—advocating for a non-hierarchical leadership structure in every organization she participated in. She knew this group-centered leadership would bring out the best in every person and thus make the organization more effective as a whole. Her theory was that “strong people don’t need strong leaders.” This is also why, as a grassroots organizer, she listened to community members’ demands and developed leaders among themselves instead of telling them what to do.
Being the mentor of Stokely Carmichael, Rosa Parks, Diane Nash, Bob Moses, Julian Bond and countless others in the movement, she earned the nickname “Fundi,” the Swahili word that means a person who teaches a craft to the next generation.
Ella Baker’s extraordinary example will continue to mentor organizers activists for generations to come.
Be sure to watch Bakers’ inspiring speeches at the end of the post! The clips are from Joanne Grant’s documentary, Fundi: The Story of Ella Baker.