Ella Baker graduated from Shaw University as valedictorian in 1927. A girl who grew up listening to her grandmother tell stories of her life when she was enslaved on the land her family later owned, Ms. Baker wasn't just her ancestors' wildest dreams -- she was more than they ever could have dreamed.
She helped build Dr. King's organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, while running a voter registration campaign in Atlanta. She left the SCLC in 1960 after the Greensboro 4 -- four students from North Carolina Agricultural & Technical University -- organized a sit-in at a local Woolworth's drugstore counter, aided by students from Bennett College. Ms. Baker felt there was a tremendous amount of potential in the younger generation, and she gathered student leaders on the campus of her alma mater to help form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She helped coordinate the Freedom Rides of the 1960s, and mentored many of the leaders of the movement. She became an outspoken voice against not just racism in American society, but sexism and misogyny within the Civil Rights Movement -- and the Black church after which the movement was modeled.
Ms. Baker believed Civil Rights and Human Rights to be intrinsically tied, saying "Even if we all can vote, but people are still hungry, we will not be free."
Young Students (K3-2nd Grade)
Ella Baker said, "I didn't break the rules, but I challenged the rules." In what ways can you respectfully challenge rules that seem unfair?
Middle Students (Grades 3-8)
Ella Baker believed young people were the key to progress in the movement. What will you do to take up the fight for equality, focusing on love, justice, and what is right?
High School Students (Grades 9-12)
Ella Baker had a hand in almost every Civil Rights organization -- the NAACP, SCLC, SNCC. She worked with King, Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall. Served as a mentor to Stokley Carmichael, Diane Nash and countless others. Few were as instrumental in organizing and progress as she was -- and yet, she was also deeply critical of the focus on charismatic heroes and the sexism on display in the movement. In other words, her intersectional identity as someone who was both Black and woman led her to call out the ways women were being oppressed even in a movement for freedom. Have you ever experienced a time when it felt like different parts of your identity were in conflict? How did you handle it?
Ella Baker believed "strong people don't need strong leaders," rather they need. to have their leadership skills developed. In what ways are you working to develop the students in your classroom as leaders, rather than rote followers of rules that don't serve them? How are you empowering them to see themselves as leaders? How are you helping them to understand their potential and strengths so they can lead?
About the Series
A Black Child Can was founded to create a better world for students by empowering the adults around them with the knowledge they need to advocate on their behalf. The 2022 blog series builds on this foundation, encouraging educators to participate in the discussion and reflect on the ways they're showing up for their students.