Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement

A Radical Democratic Vision

By Barbara Ransby

496 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 16 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5616-1
    Published: February 2005
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-6270-4
    Published: November 2003
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-7012-4
    Published: November 2003

Gender and American Culture

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Awards & distinctions

2004 Lillian Smith Book Award, Southern Regional Council

2004 Outstanding Book Award, Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights in North America

2004 Honor Book, Black Caucus of the American Library Association

Honorable Mention, 2004 Berkshire Conference First Book Prize, Berkshire Conference of Women Historians

2004 James A. Rawley Prize, Organization of American Historians

2004 Liberty Legacy Foundation Award, Organization of American Historians

2003 Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Prize, Association of Black Women Historians

2003 Joan Kelly Memorial Prize, American Historical Association

One of the most important African American leaders of the twentieth century and perhaps the most influential woman in the civil rights movement, Ella Baker (1903-1986) was an activist whose remarkable career spanned fifty years and touched thousands of lives. A gifted grassroots organizer, Baker shunned the spotlight in favor of vital behind-the-scenes work that helped power the Black freedom struggle. Making her way in predominantly male circles while maintaining relationships with a vibrant group of women, students, and activists, Baker was a national officer and key figure in the NAACP, a founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and a prime mover in the creation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

In this definitive biography, Barbara Ransby chronicles Baker's long and rich career, revealing her complexity, radical democratic worldview, and enduring influence on group-centered, grassroots activism. Beyond documenting an extraordinary life, Ransby paints a vivid picture of the African American fight for justice and its intersections with other progressive struggles worldwide throughout the twentieth century.

About the Author

Barbara Ransby is professor of African American studies and history and director of the Gender and Women's Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
For more information about Barbara Ransby, visit the Author Page.


"A magisterial rendering of one of the greatest radical democrats in the twentieth century. Ella Baker is a grand exemplar of the organic intellectual to emerge from the depths of black culture with a sophisticated international vision and an incredible courage."—Cornel West, Princeton University

"Ella Baker was an unsung hero and intellectual giant of the black freedom struggle of the twentieth century. Ransby's biography is a magnificent and timely reminder that Baker's visionary voice, eloquent democratic silences, and unflinching faith in the power of ordinary people are much needed guides for the twenty-first century as well." —Lani Guinier, Harvard University

"A stunning achievement by a brilliant historian. Ransby's exquisite investigation of Ella Baker is grounded in rich archival research and a wealth of oral interviews. In this illuminating analysis, Ransby unveils the private life and dissects the public role played by a leader of the black freedom movement, at once well-known and revered by many but enigmatic even to those closest to her. This superb biography of an extraordinary radical democrat illuminates the intersection of power, struggle, and revolutionary transformation through the lens of a well-spent life."—Darlene Clark Hine, Michigan State University

"In this compelling biography, Barbara Ransby guides us through the life of that extraordinary fighter for racial equality and social justice, Ella Jo Baker. To all of us who worked with Ella Baker in the movement, she was a person of legendary courage and inspiring intellectual power. She worked harder, saw farther, and reached deeper than anyone else in the struggle, not only for the rights of black people but for fundamental social change. All of her qualities shine through in this book, which is an important contribution not only to women's history and African American history but also to the history of this country." —Howard Zinn, Boston University

"Barbara Ransby's long-awaited biography of Ella Baker was certainly worth waiting for! This powerful, unforgettable story of one of the black freedom struggle's most influential and inspirational activists is at once scholarly, analytical, and deeply moving, essential reading for all who are interested in the possibilities of democracy."—John Dittmer, DePauw University

"This is a truly remarkable biography of a truly remarkable intellectual activist. Ella Baker, a legend in the black freedom movement, has been brought to life through this powerfully written study by historian Barbara Ransby. Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement will become, like Clayborne Carson's In Struggle, a standard in our interpretation of the civil rights era. Ransby's balanced and insightful interpretation of this courageous black visionary provides a wonderful model of what biography at its best can be."—Manning Marable, Columbia University