Here’ the straight dope on today’s Dope Queen, Civil Rights organizer Ella Jo Baker. Baker was born on December 13th, 1903 in Norfolk, VA. Her grandmother was a former slave, and told Baker stories about the horrors she face in bondage. Baker attended Shaw University and graduated as valedictorian of her class in 1924. She found life in the south to be too oppressive for African Americans, and moved to New York City after graduation.
In 1931 Baker joined of the Young Negros Cooperative League (YNC), an organization created by black journalist George Schuyler. The goal of YNC was to “develop black economic power through collective planning”. She eventually became the national director of YNC, and taught classes in consumer education, labor history and African history for the Workers Education Project (established as part of FDR’s New Deal).
In 1940 Baker became involved with the NAACP, first as a field secretary and later as Director of Branches (1943-1946). In 1955 she co-founded an organization called In Friendship, which raised money to fight Jim Crow laws in the south. Baker left New York in 1957 and moved to Atlanta to help Dr. Martin Luther King with the newly created Southern Church Leadership Conference (SCLC).
In 1960 Baker invited university student/sit-in organizers to attend the Southwide Youth Leadership Conference at her Alma mater, Shaw University. It was during this conference that the Student Non –Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was born. Baker left the SCLC to mentor SNCC and under her mentorship SNCC organized missions like the 1961 Freedom Rides, and 1964 Freedom Summer Project. Baker fought tirelessly for the rights of all people, and was an activist until her death on December 13th, 1986.