Baker pushed the Black Freedom Movement into being a grassroots-driven force, rather than that of an elite-led movement of the “Talented Tenth” (in the words of W.E.B. DuBois), or a movement of charismatic leaders (such as Martin Luther King).
She was an agent of generational change, even though she was older than many of the leaders. She worked and taught activists to appeal to the grassroots, and to youth, and to focus on direct action. To that end, she facilitated a conference at Shaw University that led to the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which led direct actions throughout the South, registering voters, desegregating public facilities, and challenging white supremacy.
As an agent of social change, Baker had roles in the NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the SCLC. She pushed for the NAACP to be more egalitarian.
As a female leader she set the example for many younger women in the Movement by not disclosing her marriage or private life at a time when the sexist norm was to refer to women by their husband’s name, as in “Mrs. Martin Luther King.” SNCC was more open to having women in leadership positions than other civil rights groups at the time.
“Who Was Ella Baker?” ellabakercenter.org (website). The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. Oakland, CA. Accessed 28 December 2021.
“Ella Baker.” Wikipedia (website). Accessed 28 December 2021.