55+ Best Ella Baker Quotes: Exclusive Selection

Ella Josephine Baker 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. Profoundly inspirational Ella Baker quotes will encourage you to think a little deeper than you usually would and broaden your perspective.

If you’re searching for quotes by prominent activists that perfectly capture what you’d like to say or just want to feel inspired yourself, browse through an amazing collection of quotes from Emma Goldman, powerful Gloria Steinem quotes and famous Fred Hampton quotes.

Famous Ella Baker Quotes

Give light and people will find the way. – Ella Baker

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. – Ella Baker

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. – Ella Baker

In order to see where we are going, we not only must remember where we have been, but we must understand where we have been. – Ella Baker

Martin [Luther King] wasn’t one to buck forces too much. – Ella Baker

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

Unless you had developed a certain independence of value, a certain independent system of value, a system of values that was independent from this middle-class drive for recognition. This has been my explanation of part of [Martin Luther King] general role. So, he accepted this without too much resistance. In fact, none that I could ever see, and at certain points I was close enough to see something. – Ella Baker

In your short stay in Atlanta, I’m sure you saw that there was great competition between Martin’s [Luther King] father and John Wesley Dobbs in terms of family status. You know, the bragging about whose child got a master’s degree first and whose child, maybe, was the first Ph.D. Out of a background like that, the business of becoming a chairman of an important movement or a movement that symbolizes a certain amount of prestige is something you don’t resist easily. – Ella Baker

I think that Walter’s [White] whole career is indicative of a large degree of egocentricity. Perhaps to be generous, you would have to say that he was a product of his period, which was that of self-projection in the name of organizational interest. – Ella Baker

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. – Ella Baker

I suppose that the first organized effort that might be considered something of civil rights was the Young Negroes’ Cooperative League. Now, this offers certain contradictions at this point, perhaps, because it was stimulated by the writings of George Schayler who, at this point, is considered an arch-conservative, I understand. – Ella Baker

I think, to be honest, sort of emanated from the initial work of somebody else instead of SCLC. If you take Albany; I don’t know whether you recall how Albany got started. There were two little guys who went up there first. One was Cordell Hull who was then in his teens – not Cordell Hull – Cordell Reagan, who came out of the Nashville movement, and Charles Sherrod, who came out of the Richmond, Virginia, movement. – Ella Baker

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. – Ella Baker

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. – Ella Baker

In ’32 we organized the Young Negroes’ Cooperative League and had some degree of success in terms of establishing stores and certainly buying clubs in various sections of the country. I was designated as – I don’t know what exactly – I believe it was director. I’m not sure what it was, but it had to do with getting out the necessary mail and all of that – organization. – Ella Baker

The anniversary of the Montgomery boycott was being celebrated, and the handbill that was out, and all whatever literature that was circulated, didn’t say practically anything about movement or what the movement stood for, what it had done, or anything, but was simply adulation of the leader, you know, [Martin Luther] King. – Ella Baker

After the ’57 initial meeting – I was up this way working, not as a staff person – there became the need for a much more definite organized office. What you’d had prior to that time were these big meetings in different places, and there was nobody to pull anything together. Everything was left to [Martin Luther] King and the group that was around him. – Ella Baker

I’m sure, out of the context here of Stanley Levison’s relationship with the Jewish liberal forces, that had made contributions. I remember one such contribution before they moved from Montgomery. An associate in the real estate business with Stanley had lost a son in the war, and she wanted to do something in memory of him. So, she made available certain monies to be used by the emerging leadership there in Montgomery. I’m sure other individuals did. – Ella Baker

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. – Ella Baker

I, perhaps, at that stage, had the kind of ambition that others may have had; you know, namely based on the concept that if you were trained the world was out there waiting for you to provide a certain kind of leadership and give you an opportunity. But with the Depression, I began to see that there were certain social forces over which the individual had very little control. – Ella Baker

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. – Ella Baker

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. – Ella Baker

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. – Ella Baker

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. – Ella Baker

I don’t think that the leadership of Montgomery was prepared to capitalize, let’s put it, on the projection that had come out of the Montgomery situation. Certainly, they had not reached the point of developing an organizational format for the expansion of it. So discussions emanated, to a large extent, from up this way. – Ella Baker

I think the reasons for not selecting persons like the Reverend Borders and John Wesley Dobbs were, in my book rather obvious reasons: because they were people who were basically oriented in the direction of the established method of not confronting the power structure, but trying to elicit concessions by various and sundry means of, well, let’s call it accommodating leadership. – Ella Baker

One of the particular things that impressed me was one visitor [of NAACP] – I think it was – it wasn’t the Prime Minister of England. We were located then on 14th Street and Fifth Avenue, up several flights of rickety stairs, and he came all the way up those stairs to see Walter [White], largely because of certain kinds of impact, I think, that the Association seemingly was having. – Ella Baker

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. – Ella Baker

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. – Ella Baker

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. – Ella Baker

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. – Ella Baker

I guess the best way to describe that would be to connect with the fact that I came out of college just before the big Depression, and I came to New York. – Ella Baker

From the Cooperative League, I suppose, with the Depression lingering as long as it did, the next step in terms of, as you call it, professional relationship, was to go to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People [NAACP]. I went there as an assistant field secretary, and so forth. So, I suppose that was the first organized step. – Ella Baker

Nixon was the one force in Montgomery for a number of years that made any effort in the direction of challenging the power structure. Ed Nixon’s source of direction for that comes out of his relationship with the Brotherhood of Sleeping Care Porters and the Randolph philosophy of mass action. So, Ed Nixon really was the force that conceived of the boycott and drew up the original papers for the boycott. – Ella Baker

I didn’t have any close relationship with him because, although [William Edward Burghardt] DuBois may not have been as egocentric – I don’t know – he certainly was not the easiest person to approach. I think, certainly, those of us who were younger sort of respected that in terms of his preoccupation with deep thoughts. So, I made no effort to establish any relationship with him. However, he was in and out then. – Ella Baker

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. – Ella Baker

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. – Ella Baker

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. – Ella Baker

Remember, we are not fighting for the freedom of the Negro alone, but for the freedom of the human spirit a larger freedom that encompasses all mankind. – Ella Baker

We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes. – Ella Baker

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. – Ella Baker

I didn’t break the rules, but I challenged the rules. – Ella Baker

The major job was getting people to understand that they had something within their power that they could use, and it could only be used if they understood what was happening and how group action could counter violence. – Ella Baker

My theory is, strong people don’t need strong leaders. – Ella Baker

There is also the danger in our culture that because a person is called upon to give public statements and is acclaimed by the establishment, such a person gets to the point of believing that he is the movement. – Ella Baker

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. – Ella Baker

I had known, number one, that there would never be any role for me in the leadership capacity with SCLC. Why? First, I’m a woman. Also, I’m not a minister. And second, I am a person that feels that I have to maintain some degree of personal integrity and be my own barometer of what is important and what is not. – Ella Baker

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

Strong people do not need strong leaders. – Ella Baker

I began to feel that my greatest sense of success would raise the level of masses of people, rather than the individual being accepted by the Establishment. So, this kind of personal thinking, combined with, say, even the little bit more radical thinking – because at one time the pacifist movement was a very radical concept. – Ella Baker

I think you can find some rationales for that if we look at the background out of which he came. Martin [Luther King] had come out of a highly competitive, black, middle-class background. – Ella Baker

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. – Ella Baker

I’ve never credited myself with a professional life. But, basically, it has been that. – Ella Baker

The struggle is eternal. The tribe increases. Somebody else carries on. – Ella Baker

I don’t know, except that the only simple answer, I think, is that SCLC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] had never really developed an organizing technique. I’ve always characterized the difference in saying that they went in for mobilization. And, to be honest, in terms of the historical facts, their mobilization usually was predicated upon some effort at organizing by someone else. And, at this stage, it was largely SNCC. – Ella Baker

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