70 Ella Baker Quotes On Civil Rights, Activism And Freedom

Looking for motivational quotes by Ella Baker? We have rounded up most famous collection of Ella Baker quotes, sayings, one-liners, (with images and pictures) to inspire you.

Ella Josephine Baker (December 13, 1903 – December 13, 1986) was an African-American civil rights and human rights activist, alongside leaders such as W.E.B Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, A. Phillip Randolph, and Martin Luther King.

Baker is an inspiration whose work helped put the 1960s civil rights movement in motion and she strongly believed in racial and economic equality. The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, an organization that aims to break the cycle of incarceration and poverty, states that “we continue [Baker’s] legacy when we say books not bars, jobs not jails and healthcare not handcuffs.”

The Ella Baker quotes featured below show her opinions on leadership, activism, the fight for civil rights, and prominent civil rights activists like Martin Luther King Jr.

Ella Baker Quotes

  1. “Give light, and people will find the way.” – Ella Baker                                                                 
    Ella Baker Quotes
    Ella Baker Quotes

  2. “We who believe in freedom cannot rest.” – Ella Baker                                                                                 
    Ella Baker Quotes On Freedom
    Ella Baker Quotes On Freedom

  3. “Martin wasn’t one to buck forces too much.” – Ella Baker

  4. “I didn’t break the rules, but I challenged the rules.” – Ella Baker                                                           
    Inspirational Ella Baker Quotes
    Inspirational Ella Baker Quotes

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

  6. “My theory is, strong people don’t need strong leaders.” – Ella Baker                                               
    Ella Baker Quotes On Leadership
    Ella Baker Quotes On Leadership

  7. “Singing alone is not enough; we need schools and learning.” – Ella Baker

  8. “[Walter White] was also one of the best lobbyists of the period.” – Ella Baker

  9. “How did I make a living? I haven’t. I have eked out an existence.” – Ella Baker

  10. “This may only be a dream of mine, but I think it can be made real.” – Ella Baker                                                                                                                                               
    Famous Ella Baker Quotes
    Famous Ella Baker Quotes

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

  12. “The struggle is eternal. The tribe increases. Somebody else carries on.” – Ella Baker                                                                                                                                             
    Ella Baker Quotes Activism
    Ella Baker Quotes Activism

  13. “To think in radical terms is “getting down to and understanding the root cause.”” – Ella Baker

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

  15. “People cannot be free until there is enough work in this land to give everybody a job.” – Ella Baker                                                                                                                           
    Ella Baker Quotes On Civil Rights
    Ella Baker Quotes On Civil Rights

  16. “With the Depression, I began to see that there were certain social forces over which the individual had very little control.” – Ella Baker

  17. “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

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

  19. “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.” – Ella Baker

  20. “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

  21. “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. ” – Ella Baker

  22. “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

  23. “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.” – Ella Baker

  24. “[Martin Luther] 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. ” – Ella Baker

  25. “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

  26. “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

  27. “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.” – Ella Baker

  28. “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                                                                                   
    Ella Baker Sayings
    Ella Baker Sayings

  29. “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

  30. “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

  31. “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

  32. “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.” – Ella Baker

  33. “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

  34. “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

  35. “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

  36. “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

  37. “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

  38. “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

  39. “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

  40. “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

  41. “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

  42. “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

  43. “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

  44. “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

  45. “Martin [Luther King] 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.” – Ella Baker

  46. “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

  47. “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

  48. “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.” – Ella Baker

  49. “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

  50. “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

  51. “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

  52. “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

  53. “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

  54. “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

  55. “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 Schuyler who, at this point, is considered an arch-conservative, I understand.” – Ella Baker

  56. “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

  57. “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

  58. “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

  59. “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

  60. “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

  61. “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.” – Ella Baker

  62. “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.” – Ella Baker

  63. “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

  64. “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

  65. “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

  66. “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.” – Ella Baker

  67. “[Walter White] had keep [people] waiting while you got the impression that he was terribly busy with calls to Washington. I’ve seen such exhibitions in that direction as having someone come out of his office to the switchboard operator – which at that time was sort of located in the center of wherever people were waiting – and ask to call such-and-such a place, or a call through to Mr. So-and-so, or somebody like this, you see.” – Ella Baker

  68. “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

  69. “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

  70. “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”.” – Ella Baker


Much of Ella Baker’s activism came from being the founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She mentored many prominent figures through this organization, including Rosa Parks and Stokely Charmichael.

The SNCC played a significant role in organizing a variety of different prominent civil rights events including the March on Washington in 1963. Baker spoke out about civil rights, racism, and sexism, whether within American culture or in the civil rights movement itself.


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