Ella Baker was one of the unsung leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. What can she teach us about movement-building today?

Those who romanticize the concept of leaderless movements often misleadingly deploy Baker’s words, “Strong people don’t need [a] strong leader.” Baker delivered this message in various iterations over her fifty-year career working in the trenches of racial-justice struggles, but what she meant was specific and contextual. She was calling for people to disinvest from the notion of the messianic, charismatic leader who promises political salvation in exchange for deference. Baker also did not mean that movements would naturally emerge without collective analysis, serious strategizing, organizing, mobilizing, and consensus-building.