It is quite rare that someone who advocates committing crimes is considered a mentor and role model. The only people who can commit/advocate crimes are people in power who tend to occupy the upper echelons of society, or a social justice warrior whose legacy has been viewed as correct by history. Ella Baker falls within the latter category because of her work within various civil rights organizations. Her advocacy for nonviolent disobedience helped pave the way for successes that were later achieved during the civil rights movement. Although she instructed people to commit a crime by staging sit-ins, history has judged this a justifiable crime for which the protestors were right to break the law.
What distinguishes Ella from other civil rights leaders is the fact that she was a woman; she helped to organize the famous Montgomery sit-ins that is mentioned in the history books, but she has been left out from historical accounts. Most civil rights leaders in the history books are men which is a gross historical slight that should be corrected in future history books. Although the term leader is not one that would sit well with her because she was adamant that participants in organizations should be empowered to make their own democratic decisions and not rely on charismatic leaders to guide them. Reaching this belief is what leaderless movements of the present day have been striving for and not achieved 100%.
Unlike most adults who wage generational wars with the youth she saw the youth as the future of reaching the civil rights movements goals. She started the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, an organization comprised largely of black college students, and mentored them in the ways of nonviolence and social change. Before starting SNCC she took major roles in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference where she met many of the most famous members of the civil rights movement, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. She usually avoided the spotlight and unsuccessfully ran for public office on a few occasions, but she fought for change from below.
The thing about Ella Baker that not only Making It to The Finish Line, but social justice activist can learn from is her excellent quote “People did not really need to be led; they needed to be given the skills, information, and opportunity to lead themselves.” She instructed the students that she mentored to start with the hamburger, then push for more. This analogy deals with the concept of winning small victories and then push for the bigger victories. To find out more about Ella and other great icons look at the source below.
Dreier, P. (2012). The 100 greatest Americans of the 20th century: A social justice hall of fame. New York: Nation Books.