Ella Baker

Ella Baker was a civil rights activist and important member of some of the most influential organizations in the civil rights movement. She was born in 1903 in Norfolk, Virginia, and was raised in North Carolina where she would go on to attend Shaw University in Raleigh. Her relentless passion for justice is often attributed, in part, to stories of her grandmother’s own resilience in the face of abuse and oppression under slavery. 

In 1938, Baker became involved with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Beginning in 1957 she worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to found his Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). In both the NAACP and the SCLC, Baker thought the leadership was too distant from the people it was supposed to serve. She wanted to return “power to the people,” and to encourage members to lead themselves instead of following charismatic leaders such as Dr. King. 

In 1960, a group of Black college students conducted sit-ins in restaurants that only served white customers. Following these sit-ins, Baker helped these students and young people form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC—and pronounced “snick”). While Dr. King wanted SNCC to become a youth branch of the SCLC, Baker encouraged the students to be their own leaders. It was at the first SNCC conference in 1960  that Baker delivered her “Bigger Than a Hamburger” speech. In the speech she commends the students for their “group-centered leadership,” and encourages them not to be swayed by older civil rights leaders and prophets who may have “heavy feet of clay.” She recognized the power young people can have for change, and believed that change happens from the bottom up. 

What does Baker mean when she says that the sit-ins are "bigger than a hamburger"? 

What worries her about the student movement being absorbed into the SCLC, or "the adult community"?