Ella Jo Baker was born on December 13, 1903, in Norfolk, Virginia. Growing up in North Carolina, she developed a sense for social justice early on, due in part to her grandmother’s stories about life under slavery.
As a slave, her grandmother had been whipped for refusing to marry a man chosen for her by the slave owner. Her grandmother’s pride and resilience in the face of racism and injustice continued to inspire Ms. Baker throughout her life.
Ella Baker’s maternal grandparents bought, lived on, and cultivated land that was formerly a part of the plantation on which they were enslaved. They bought the land for $250, which they paid off in installments. This purchase was the source of great pride for their family, and they went on to become successful farmers.
Baker studied at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. As a student she challenged school policies that she thought were unfair. After graduating in 1927 as class valedictorian, she moved to New York City and began joining social activist organizations.
In 1930, she joined the Young Negroes Cooperative League, whose purpose was to develop black economic power through collective planning. She also involved herself with several women’s organizations. She was committed to economic justice for all people and once said, “People cannot be free until there is enough work in this land to give everybody a job.”
At the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights today, we continue in her legacy when we say books not bars, jobs not jails and healthcare not handcuffs. We know the prison system is the largest provider of mental health care and substance abuse rehabilitation in our country today. Prisons cannot continue to be the answer to these public health crises. Care based and community based solutions are the answer like healthcare for all, free public education, and housing as a recognized human right…
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Another video from Crash Course mentions one of the great works it Ella Baker as you can watch below—