60+ 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

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 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.

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.

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.

The three years from ’60 to ’63, out of my fifty-odd years, seems to me to be the best years of my life.

I’ve always thought first and foremost of people as individuals.

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.

Well, my greatest fling has still to be flung, because as far as I’m concerned I was never working for an organization. I have always tried to work for a cause.

I don’t know, except that the only simple answer, I think, is that SCLC 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.

I believe, the NAACP began to try to organize parents of Negro children to file petitions with the boards of education regarding the integration of the school system. You had some very severe economic reprisals against people in Mississippi and in South Carolina. So, in order to try to help to meet some of the physical needs and the economic needs of people in Clarendon County [SC] who had been displaced from the land, and otherwise, and in certain sections of Mississippi, we organized in New York City something called In Friendship”.

Singing alone is not enough; we need schools and learning.

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.

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.

With the Depression, I began to see that there were certain social forces over which the individual had very little control.

I had been friendly with people who were in the Communist party and all the rest of the Left forces.

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.

We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.

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.

Inspirational Ella Baker Quotes

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 itself to your needs and devising means by which you change that system.

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.

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

Give light, and people will find the way.

Because our children had had the privilege of growing up where they’d raised a lot of food. They were never hungry. They could share their food with people. And so, you share your lives with people.

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.

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.

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

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.

King was one of the two young ministers – and you know how directly oriented the Negro community still is towards the minister as the leader.

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.

Wherever there has been struggle, black women have been identified with that struggle.

Even if segregation is gone, we will still need to be free; we will still have to see that everyone has a job. Even if we can all vote, but if people are still hungry, we will not be free.

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.

We’d go around to settlement houses and conduct classes.

People cannot be free until there is enough work in this land to give everybody a job.

Basically I believe human beings want to live in a decent world.

And there’s a lot of difference between the development of single individuals as leaders and the development of leadership, with leadership concepts.

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.

Top Ella Baker Quotes

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 of mankind.

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.

The struggle is eternal. The tribe increases. Somebody else carries on.

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.

This may only be a dream of mine, but I think it can be made real.

[Walter White] was also one of the best lobbyists of the period.

In your short stay in Atlanta, I’m sure you saw that there was great competition between Martin’s father and John Wesley Dobbs in terms of family status. 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.

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.

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.

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

When I came out of the Depression, I came out of it with a different point of view as to what constituted success.

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

I didn’t have any close relationship with him because, although (William Edward Burghardt) DuBois may not have been as egocentric. 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.

Martin wasn’t one to buck forces too much.

Martin 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.

His name was Michael R. Ross. I’ve never known what the R” was for. He died, however, before I was 7. But he and I seemed to have had quite a nice relationship. He always called me grandlady, and he’d always talk to you as a person rather than as a child. So, I would go with him for his routes in his horse and buggy. So, my memory of him is pretty sharp, plus it has been accentuated by the stories that come out of the family.

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.

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