Dec. 13, 1986 New York New York County (Manhattan) New York, USA
Civil rights and human activist. She spent her life working behind the scenes to organize the Civil Rights Movement. During a career which spanned over five decades she worked alongside some of the most famous civil rights leaders of the twentieth century, including: W.E.B. DuBois, Thurgood Marshall, A. Phillip Randolph, and Martin Luther King, Jr. She also mentored Diane Nash, Stockley Carmichael, and Bob Moses. The Norfolk, Virginia native developed a sense for social justice early in her life. As a girl growing up in North Carolina, She listened to her grandmother tell stories about slave revolts. As a slave, her grandmother had been whipped for refusing to marry a man chosen for her by the slave owner. She later studied at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. As a student she challenged school policies that she thought were unfair. She graduated in 1927 as class valedictorian and then moved to New York City. She began joining social activist organizations. In 1930, she joined the Young Negroes Cooperative League. The league's purpose was to develop black economic power through collective planning. She also involved herself with several women's organizations. In 1940, she began her involvement with the NAACP. She worked as a field secretary and then served as director of branches from 1943 until 1946 when she resigned from the NAACP staff. She remained an active volunteer after her resignation from the staff, Baker led the New York NAACP branch's fight to desegregate New York City public schools. In 1957, she moved to Atlanta to organize Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's new organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). She also ran a voter registration campaign called the Crusade for Citizenship. She stayed at SCLC for two years although she disagreed with its policy of strong central leadership over grass-roots organization, saying "strong people don't need strong leaders. She left SCLC after the Greensboro sit-ins. She wanted to help the new student activists and organized a meeting at Shaw University for the student leaders of the sit-ins in April 1960. From that meeting SNCC was born. She continued to take part in SNCC mostly as a quiet leader who listened and encouraged the young activists. She was widely respected by the students who referred to her as "Miss Baker." She returned to New York City in 1964 and her influence was also reflected in the nickname she acquired: "Fundi," a Swahili word meaning a person who teaches a craft to the next generation. She continued to be a respected and influential leader in the fight for human and civil rights until her death on her 83rd birthday.