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Matron Saint of Civil Rights

Artist: Amy Gest

Ella Baker
Born: December 13, 1903
Died: December 13, 1986
Occupation: Activist

I chose Ella Baker because she was one of the unsung heroines for the civil rights era.

The granddaughter of a slave who was beaten for refusing to marry a man her master chose for her, Ella Baker spent her life working behind the scenes to organize the Civil Rights Movement. Baker was a staunch believer in helping ordinary people to work together and lead themselves, and she objected to centralized authority. In her worldview, "strong people don't need strong leaders.”

Baker was one of the visionaries who created the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957, and she recruited the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. into it.

In 1960, starting with student activists at her alma mater, she founded the nationwide Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which gave young blacks, including women and the poor, a major role in the Civil Rights Movement.

I wanted to depict her in mostly stark colors to keep her portrait simple and dramatic.

- Amy Gest

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