Ella Baker: Civil Rights Leadership

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This lesson introduces students to the life and times of civil rights activist Ella Baker (1903-1986). Baker put her theory that “strong people don’t need strong leaders” into action when she encouraged college students to create an autonomous organization free of established civil rights groups. The result was the founding of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960. Baker also played a key role in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which sought to integrate the allwhite state delegation at the 1964 National Democratic Convention. Baker has been called a “midwife” and “mother” of the civil rights movement. More fitting perhaps is the word “mentor,” which captures her belief in “group centered leadership.”

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