From the 1930's until her passing at the age of 83 in 1986, Ella was a civil rights leader who worked with or mentored many of the leading U.S. civil rights leaders of the 20th Century.
Those leaders included W. E. B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokely Carmichael, Rosa Parks, and Bob Moses.
In the 1960's, Ella was a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and organized sit-ins and freedom rides that challenged the whites' only control of the U.S.'s Deep South.
This was at a time when Ella was about 60 years of age.
Photo from "Ella Baker: Freedom Bound" by Joanne Grant
Born in 1903, Ella was raised in the Deep South, witnessing and being impacted by the white oppression which permeated every aspect of the South.
Black people had no voice, no vote, and no justice and were excluded from most hotels, most schools, and most other public facilities, and from most neighborhoods and from most high paying jobs.
They were allowed to live and function only in ghettos set aside for them and often they were to serve whites. Black people were "to know their place," and for those who didn't, being murdered by a mob or terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan was a common occurrence.
Ella's grandmother had been a slave and she told her of the brutality and slave revolts (revolts which are rarely discussed in U.S. history books), planting the seeds of indignation and courage in Ella.
Ella graduated at the top of her class from Shaw University, a historically black school in North Carolina in 1927, moved to New York City and became active in, wrote for, joined or helped start one major black civil rights or black news group after the next.
Then in 1964, prior to the national Democratic Party convention, Ella helped organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) as an alternative to the all-white, virtually all male, pro-segregationist Mississippi Democratic Party.
The intent was to challenge the national party to affirm the rights of minorities to participate in party elections in the Deep South. The MFDP was not seated, but thereafter the Democratic Party helped select black leaders in Mississippi and forced a rule change to include women and minorities as delegates.
So why isn't Ella better known today? Perhaps it is because she published no books, kept no diaries and was so secretive in her private life, few people even knew she was married for 20 years.
But now dear reader you know of this great U.S. civil rights leader, whose dedication made history, even without personal recognition.