Baker made many suggestions for a stronger and more effective SCLC: citizenship schools for literacy, unifying all member groups, developing leadership in the ranks, a program to fight every form of discrimination using mass action and non-violent resistance. MLK agreed to all her suggestions and when she was just about to present them to SCLC’s board of directors, another galvanizing event in 1960 brought a dramatic change in Baker’s life.
On February 1, 1960, a group of Afrikan American students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro, North Carolina after much planning, sat down at the Woolworth’s lunch counter. When they were not served, they remained seated until the store closed. Over the course of the next few days the students returned. This was not the very first “sit-in,” attempted, but due to the new heightened national media attention, it now got reported in the national press. News quickly spread and others came to join from around the South, where similar actions were tried. Baker saw that the energy of these young people was needed and that it could revive the movement. She immediately asked for funds from SCLC to sponsor a meeting to organize these students. She arranged for her alma mater, Shaw University, to host a meeting over the Easter weekend. More than 300 students, both black and white showed up.
The NAACP, SCLC, and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) each courted the students tried to convince the students to join them. But the youth were determined to be independent. Ella Baker admired them for this, and encouraged them to make their own decisions and be free to form their own group. King disagreed, and felt because SCLC had sponsored the meeting, this new group should be under it auspices. The students remained separated and form an organization called SNCC, (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), pronounced “Snick.” Baker became their advisor.
Later that year Baker resigned from SCLC and focused her energies on SNCC. Having confronted patriarchal leadership here entire life, Baker had developed a philosophy and strategies to counter it and allow a voice for everyone, including women and youth. Ella Baker insisted that "strong people don't need strong leaders," and criticized the notion of a single charismatic leader at the helm of movements for social change. Ella Baker pushed the idea of "Participatory Democracy," therefore, she wanted each person to get involved individually. Under Ella's watch SNCC engaged in direct actions and voter registration. She helped to coordinated the region-wide freedom rides of 1961 and began to work closely with black sharecroppers and others throughout the South.
During the historic March on Washington, Baker did not attend. Who more than she was suppose to have been present and made a speech. When the march was planned, no woman was asked to speak. After protest, three women were finally given an opportunity but since Ella had angered SCLC over its plan to take over SNCC, she was not invited to speak. SNCC did deliver a message through member John Lewis, who is presently a Congressman from Georgia.
In 1964, in what was known as “Freedom Summer,” Ella went next to Mississippi to participate in its huge voter-registration drive. Freedom Summer attracted large numbers of white college student volunteers. Shortly after the arrival of many of these students, three came up missing. Two white students from New York, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, were murdered, along with Afrikan American student James Chaney of Mississippi. It shocked the nation and gave broader support for the movement. Ella Baker was asked her reaction. “The unfortunate thing is that it took this…to make the rest of the country turn its eyes on the fact that there were other (black) bodies lying in the swamps of Mississippi. Until the killing of a black mother’s son becomes as important as the killing of a white mother’s son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest.”
During this time, the Democratic Party ran the South. The Party decided which candidates to support, and what issues they were going to take a stand on. Black Mississippians were excluded from participation. (As elsewhere in the South.) Afrikan Americans asked for a voice, of which the Party returned a resounding NO! It was decided to form a new political party, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), which was open to whites and blacks. Baker helped to organize it, and ran its office in Washington, D.C. Baker accompanied another founder and vice chairperson of the MFDP, Fannie Lou Hamer, to the Democratic National Convention in New Jersey. Hamer was a member of SNCC. Outside the Convention, Baker made a rousing speech, with the pictures of the murdered civil rights workers, Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman behind her. The 1964 Mississippian delegation would be the last to exclude Afrikan Americans.
In August of 1965 the Voting Rights Act became law and Baker went home to Harlem. She knew that there would be other battles to fight, and that young people would be searching to find a more revolutionary approach. She maintained her voice in opposition to oppression every where. She supported the liberation movements in Rhodesia, (now Zimbabwe), and in South Africa. Baker worked for the independence of Puerto Rico through the Puerto Rican Solidarity Committee and against the U.S. war in Vietnam. She also worked with the Third World Women's Coordinating Committee.
Baker had been “a leader behind the scenes,” and an amazingly effective at that. She truly felt that everyone could find the strength to make a difference in their own life and in the lives of others and throughout her social activist life Ella Baker thought that it was important to empower people to believe in their own abilities to make for change. The young people she worked with nicknamed her "Fundi," which comes from a Swahili word that means a person who passes down a craft to the next generation.