Ella Josephine Baker

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Baker, Ella Josephine

(1903–86) civil rights activist; born in Norfolk, Va. After graduating from Shaw University in Raleigh, Va. (1927), Baker moved to New York City where she immediately became involved in work to better the conditions in Harlem, joining the Young Negroes Cooperative League and becoming its national director in 1931. In the 1930s she worked for the Workers Education Project of the Works Progress Administration and added a concern with women's rights to her commitment to equal rights for African-Americans. She worked for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (1940–46) but was disillusioned by its slow pace. She took an active role in the formative stage of such groups as the Southern Christian Leadership Congress (1948) and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (1960). She was also active in founding the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (1964) and was widely credited with inspiring many of the founders of the Students for a Democratic Society and the Black Panther Party. Although not as well known as some of the other leaders of the civil rights movement, she was highly respected by those inside the movement.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.