Baker was born on December 13, 1903, in Norfolk, Virginia. Baker
developed a sense for social justice early in her life. As a girl
growing up in North Carolina, Baker 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.
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. Baker 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.
Baker 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
Baker moved to Atlanta to organize Martin Luther King's new organization,
the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). She also
ran a voter registration campaign called the Crusade for Citizenship.
Baker 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.
left the 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. Baker 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
Baker died on December 13, 1986, in New York City.