Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement

By Barbara Ransby,

Book cover of Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision

Book description

One of the most important African American leaders of the twentieth century and perhaps the most influential woman in the civil rights movement, Ella Baker (1903-1986) was an activist whose remarkable career spanned fifty years and touched thousands of lives. In this deeply researched biography, Barbara Ransby chronicles Baker's long…

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Why read it?

5 authors picked Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

This is a book that inspired me as a historian and in my approach to activism. Barbara Ransby’s biography of Ella Baker excavates the activist’s life, placing the reader at the nexus of some of the most important moments in civil rights history. Ella Baker’s life also provides a blueprint for local activism and group-centered leadership. It’s a compelling story of how Ella Baker became a mentor, inspiring, listening to, and supporting local activists. 

Barbara Ransby uncovers the life of the civil rights activist, Ella Baker, a supreme grassroots organizer who believed strongly in a more inclusive model of change-making. Although a leading participant in the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC), she redefined the meaning of the civil rights movement, focusing on ordinary people as the key agents of social change. Baker hoped to help others lead, as she did when she helped young people create their own organization, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), but then stepped back to let them lead. Her anti-elitism and radical democratic vision had led…

From Alison's list on biographies of Black women.

Ella Baker (1903-1986) was one of the most important organizers and intellectuals behind the Black freedom movements that transformed the United States in the last half of the 20th century. She is often best remembered for convening the 1960 conference of young sit-in activists that led to the formation of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and then mentoring them as they continued their work across the South. Like Septima Clark, Baker embraced a philosophy of spreading leadership throughout a community and emphasized ordinary people’s capability to assume those responsibilities. Ransby’s magnificent biography supplies readers with an intimate portrait of…

From Katherine's list on women in the civil rights movement.

For me, this book is more a mystery story with a carefully calibrated punchline than a standard biography. Barbara Ransby goes to the heart of the question of how any woman could wield as much influence as did NAACP branch organizer and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) “godmother” Ella Baker in the notoriously sexist civil rights movement.  The “outsider within,” Ransby calls her subject, revealing the way Baker managed to introduce alongside the all-male, church-based stream of the movement a tidal wave of grassroots activism powered by legions of ordinary folk, including the young activists she mentored as SNCC’s leading…

From Katie's list on Black women disruptors.

There are so many amazing leaders of the Black Freedom Struggle. But other than a very few (King, Malcolm, Rosa Parks, etc), we know very little about them. Ella Baker was an amazing organizer who made huge changes in the world, despite facing not only racism from the white world but also sexism from male civil rights leaders. Ransby is a superb biographer of Black women on the left who transformed the world. Arguably, no one in the civil rights movement was more important than Ella Baker. Moreover, this is a great book on how to organize. Anyone interested in…

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