Ella Baker was born December 13, 1903 in Norfolk, Virginia. She was brought up from the start with a strong feeling towards equality between blacks and whites, for she used to listen to her grandmother's tales about when she was a slave, how her owner had whipped her because she had refused to marry the man who he wanted her to marry.
Ella attended Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, and graduated as valedictorian in 1927 and then moved to New York City. In 1930, Ella joined the Young Negroes Cooperative League in order to develop economic power for blacks using collective planning. In 1940, Ella joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and became the field secretary and director of branches. Although she resigned in 1946, she still played an active role and still fought to desegregate the public schools of New York City.
In 1957, she moved to Atlanta where she helped organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Martin Luther King's new organization, and also helped with Crusade for Citizenship, a voter registration campaign.
In 1960, Ella founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) after a group of black college students refused to leave Carolina A&T University's cafeteria after having been denied service on February 1 of that same year.
Ella Baker died on her birthday, December 13, in 1986, at the age of 83 in New York City.