For every high-profile leader, there are people doing essential work who are not as well known—making decisions, steering conversations, listening, problem-solving, organizing, and more. Ella Baker was one of those people. In fact, Baker is known as The Mother of the Civil Rights Movement because of her behind the scenes leadership.
Learn about Ella Baker’s activism for African-American civil rights and human rights with this Black History in Two Minutes (or so) video. Harvard historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. hosts the video series.
After graduating from Shaw University, Ella Baker moved to New York City and began her career as a grassroots organizer. Joining the NAACP in 1940, the Virginia native assisted in developing some of the brightest minds in the Civil Rights Movement.
Baker charged people like Rosa Parks to stand up and speak out. Through her organizing efforts, she assisted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with the creation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which was helping to build the Civil Rights Movement. After a string of sit-ins in the 1960s, she joined a group of students who would go on to form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Baker ignited the fight in a generation of young Americans who would go on to risk their own freedom for the advancement and equality of all Black people.
Related reading at The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and Time Mazagine‘s On MLK Day, Honor the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement, Too.
Explore Black History Month videos all year long ➜
Watch these related civics and civil rights videos next:
• Shirley Chisholm, the First Black Congresswoman
• Rosa Parks, her story as a lifelong civil rights activist
• The 1913 women’s suffrage march on Washington D.C.
• Marian Anderson’s ‘defiant performance’ at the Lincoln Memorial
• The Fight for Fair Housing in Milwaukee: Vel Phillips and James Groppi