“I didn’t break the rules, but I challenged the rules."
— Civil Rights activist Ella Baker
Ella Josephine Baker (December 13, 1903 – December 13, 1986) was behind-the-scenes Civil Rights and human rights activist. She was an organizer whose career spanned more than five decades. She worked alongside some of the most noted civil rights leaders of the 20th century, including Martin Luther King Jr., W. E. B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, and A. Philip Randolph. She also mentored many emerging activists, such as Diane Nash, Stokely Carmichael, Rosa Parks, and Bob Moses, whom she first mentored as leaders in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
Baker criticized the type of leadership that was glossy, publicly lauded and charismatic. Instead, she promoted grassroots organizing, radical democracy, and the ability of the oppressed to understand their worlds and advocate for themselves. She realized this vision most fully in the 1960s as the primary advisor and strategist of the SNCC. Baker has been called "one of the most important American leaders of the twentieth century and perhaps the most influential woman in the civil rights movement." She is known for her critiques not only of racism within American culture, but also of sexism within the Civil Rights Movement.