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39 Quotes by Ella Baker on Civil and Human Rights Activism

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Wikipedia Summary for Ella Baker

Ella Josephine Baker (December 13, 1903 – December 13, 1986) was an African-American civil rights and human rights activist. She was a largely behind-the-scenes organizer whose career spanned more than five decades. In New York City and the South, she worked alongside some of the most noted civil rights leaders of the 20th century, including W. E. B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, A. Philip Randolph, and Martin Luther King Jr. She also mentored many emerging activists, such as Diane Nash, Stokely Carmichael, and Bob Moses, as leaders in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Baker criticized professionalized, charismatic leadership; 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 of both racism in American culture and sexism in the civil rights movement.

Quote: Give light, and people will find the way. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of cactus flowers
Photo Credit: DiscoverQuotes Staff

Give light, and people will find the way.


Quote: I didn't break the rules, but I challenged the rules. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of photo of author Ella Baker with quote

I didn't break the rules, but I challenged the rules.


Quote: Martin Luther King wasn't, basically, the kind of person -- certainly at the stage that I knew him closest -- wasn't the kind of person you could engage in dialogue with, certainly, if the dialogue questioned the almost exclusive rightness of his position. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of photo of author Ella Baker with quote

Martin Luther King wasn't, basically, the kind of person -- certainly at the stage that I knew him closest -- wasn't the kind of person you could engage in dialogue with, certainly, if the dialogue questioned the almost exclusive rightness of his position.


Quote: I have always felt it was a handicap for oppressed peoples to depend so largely upon a leader, because unfortunately in our culture, the charismatic leader usually becomes a leader because he has found a spot in the public limelight. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of photo of author Ella Baker with quote

I have always felt it was a handicap for oppressed peoples to depend so largely upon a leader, because unfortunately in our culture, the charismatic leader usually becomes a leader because he has found a spot in the public limelight.


Quote: This In Friendship -- out of it came certain connections with the liberal labor establishment. Among the personalities that were involved were Bayard Rustin and a person from the American Jewish Congress, Stanley Levinson. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of photo of author Ella Baker with quote

This In Friendship -- out of it came certain connections with the liberal labor establishment. Among the personalities that were involved were Bayard Rustin and a person from the American Jewish Congress, Stanley Levinson.


Quote: During the Depression years, I began to identify to some extent with the unemployed, the organization for the unemployed at that period. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of photo of author Ella Baker with quote

During the Depression years, I began to identify to some extent with the unemployed, the organization for the unemployed at that period.


Quote: I have always thought that what is needed is the development of people who are interested not in being leaders as much as in developing leadership in others. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of photo of author Ella Baker with quote

I have always thought that what is needed is the development of people who are interested not in being leaders as much as in developing leadership in others.


Quote: Martin Luther King wasn't one to buck forces too much. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of photo of author Ella Baker with quote

Martin Luther King wasn't one to buck forces too much.


Quote: I had been friendly with people who were in the Communist party and all the rest of the Left forces, which were oriented in the direction of mass action. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of photo of author Ella Baker with quote

I had been friendly with people who were in the Communist party and all the rest of the Left forces, which were oriented in the direction of mass action.


Quote: I came out of a family background that involved itself with people. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of photo of author Ella Baker with quote

I came out of a family background that involved itself with people.


Quote: Oppressed people, whatever their level of formal education, have the ability to understand and interpret the world around them, to see the world for what it is, and move to transform it. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of photo of author Ella Baker with quote

Oppressed people, whatever their level of formal education, have the ability to understand and interpret the world around them, to see the world for what it is, and move to transform it.




Quote: My association with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference is sort of predated by an effort that we were a part of here in New York City regarding the reaction to this 1954 Supreme Court Brown v Board of Education decision. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of photo of author Ella Baker with quote

My association with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference is sort of predated by an effort that we were a part of here in New York City regarding the reaction to this 1954 Supreme Court Brown v Board of Education decision.






Quote: In order for us as poor and oppressed people to become part of a society that is meaningful, the system under which we now exist has to be radically changed... It means facing a system that does not lend its self to your needs and devising means by which you change that system. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of Ella Baker quote; white text on black background

In order for us as poor and oppressed people to become part of a society that is meaningful, the system under which we now exist has to be radically changed... It means facing a system that does not lend its self to your needs and devising means by which you change that system.




Quote: My mother didn't feel very satisfied about the English background that I had received in the public schools in Littleton. So, she insisted that I take a year under the high school level. So, I was in boarding school nine years. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of photo of author Ella Baker with quote

My mother didn't feel very satisfied about the English background that I had received in the public schools in Littleton. So, she insisted that I take a year under the high school level. So, I was in boarding school nine years.


Quote: One of the stories that dominates our family literature was the fact that my maternal grandfather contracted for -- I don't know under what terms -- but, for a large section of the old slave plantation. He established himself -- sisters and brothers, cousins, etc. on fifty- and sixty-acre plots. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of Ella Baker quote: One of the stories that dominates our family literature was the fact that my maternal grandfather contracted for -- I don't know under what terms -- but, for a large section of the old slave plantation. He established himself -- sisters and brothers, cousins, etc. on fifty- and sixty-acre plots.- black text on quotes background

One of the stories that dominates our family literature was the fact that my maternal grandfather contracted for -- I don't know under what terms -- but, for a large section of the old slave plantation. He established himself -- sisters and brothers, cousins, etc. on fifty- and sixty-acre plots.




Quote: When I came out of the Depression, I came out of it with a different point of view as to what constituted success. And that was even just even personal success. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of photo of author Ella Baker with quote

When I came out of the Depression, I came out of it with a different point of view as to what constituted success. And that was even just even personal success.


Quote: I believe, the Gunnar Myrdal study had been made, and if we hadn't had anything else to raise questions, this in itself would have been something to provoke thought in the direction of the value of accommodating leadership. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of photo of author Ella Baker with quote

I believe, the Gunnar Myrdal study had been made, and if we hadn't had anything else to raise questions, this in itself would have been something to provoke thought in the direction of the value of accommodating leadership.




Quote: Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was more politically oriented. Part and parcel of the initial SNCC efforts was to not only go in for voter registration, but for political participation. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of photo of author Ella Baker with quote

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was more politically oriented. Part and parcel of the initial SNCC efforts was to not only go in for voter registration, but for political participation.






Quote: I think personally, I've always felt that the Association NAACP got itself hung-up in what I call its legal successes. Having had so many outstanding legal successes, it definitely seemed to have oriented its thinking in the direction that the way to achieve was through the courts. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of Ella Baker quote: I think personally, I've always felt that the Association NAACP got itself hung-up in what I call its legal successes. Having had so many outstanding legal successes, it definitely seemed to have oriented its thinking in the direction that the way to achieve was through the courts.- black text on quotes background

I think personally, I've always felt that the Association NAACP got itself hung-up in what I call its legal successes. Having had so many outstanding legal successes, it definitely seemed to have oriented its thinking in the direction that the way to achieve was through the courts.






Quote: I've never credited myself with a professional life. But, basically, it has been that. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of photo of author Ella Baker with quote

I've never credited myself with a professional life. But, basically, it has been that.


Quote: When I went to the Association National Association for the Advancement of Colored People I learned a few things by observation. One of the things that used to strike me was Walter White need to impress people, even just people who came into the office. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of photo of author Ella Baker with quote

When I went to the Association National Association for the Advancement of Colored People I learned a few things by observation. One of the things that used to strike me was Walter White need to impress people, even just people who came into the office.


Quote: You didn't see me on television, you didn't see news stories about me. The kind of role that I tried to play was to pick up pieces or put together pieces out of which I hoped organization might come. My theory is, strong people don't need strong leaders. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of photo of author Ella Baker with quote

You didn't see me on television, you didn't see news stories about me. The kind of role that I tried to play was to pick up pieces or put together pieces out of which I hoped organization might come. My theory is, strong people don't need strong leaders.


Quote: My theory is, strong people don't need strong leaders. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of photo of author Ella Baker with quote

My theory is, strong people don't need strong leaders.


Quote: Until the killing of black men, black mothers' sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother's sons, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of photo of author Ella Baker with quote

Until the killing of black men, black mothers' sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother's sons, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.


Quote: Both my parents came from North Carolina, in Warren County. My mother had a feeling that there was greater culture in North Carolina than obtained in Norfolk, Virginia, plus the fact she just didn't like the lowland-lying climate there. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of photo of author Ella Baker with quote

Both my parents came from North Carolina, in Warren County. My mother had a feeling that there was greater culture in North Carolina than obtained in Norfolk, Virginia, plus the fact she just didn't like the lowland-lying climate there.


Quote: I was born in Norfolk, Virginia. I began school there, the first year of public school. When I was 7, the family shifted back to North Carolina. I grew up in North Carolina; had my schooling through the college level in North Carolina. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of photo of author Ella Baker with quote

I was born in Norfolk, Virginia. I began school there, the first year of public school. When I was 7, the family shifted back to North Carolina. I grew up in North Carolina; had my schooling through the college level in North Carolina.


Quote: I went to what is known as, and was at that time, too, Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. In fact, because of the lack of public school facilities, I began there. I began boarding school at the high school level; in fact, a year below the high school level. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of Ella Baker quote; white text on black background

I went to what is known as, and was at that time, too, Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. In fact, because of the lack of public school facilities, I began there. I began boarding school at the high school level; in fact, a year below the high school level.


Quote: Strong people don't need strong leaders. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of photo of author Ella Baker with quote

Strong people don't need strong leaders.


Quote: One of the things that has to be faced is the process of waiting to change the system, how much we have got to do to find out who we are, where we have come from and where we are going. by author Ella Baker overlaid on photo of photo of author Ella Baker with quote

One of the things that has to be faced is the process of waiting to change the system, how much we have got to do to find out who we are, where we have come from and where we are going.


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