Ella Josephine Baker

Photo: AP

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Ella Josephine Baker (1903—1986) 
As a leading African-American civil rights and human rights activist beginning in the 1930s, Ella Josephine Baker was a founder and acting director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She fought against sexism within those prominent organizations as she led the charge for racial equality for more than five decades.

She left home after attending Shaw University to become a community organizer and worked alongside some of the most famous civil rights leaders of the 20th century, including W.E.B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, A. Philip Randolph and Martin Luther King Jr., though her contributions were often overlooked by the men in the movement. "Baker is one of the unsung, or at least not-sung-enough, heroes of the civil rights movement," Collins says."What I love about her is that her approach to organizing was ego-free. This is as rare in the upper ranks of equality movements as it is in every other human endeavor."

Baker also mentored young civil rights stalwarts Diane Nash, Stokely Carmichael, Rosa Parks and Bob Moses. Called "our Ghandi" by members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, she was known as an inspiration to those who worked with her. "Ella never cared about titles, or the spotlight, or even about money—of which she had very little," Collins says. "It was all about the young students she was training and the grassroots people they were going out to mobilize."

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