A publication of the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives

Co-op Principles
Home | Co-op Principles | An Unsung Hero

An Unsung Hero

Virginia native to be inducted into Cooperative Hall of Fame


by Steven Johnson, Staff Writer

Often, the greatest contributors to the cooperative movement do so with little or no expectation of personal gain. That truly exemplifies the cooperative spirit.

Ella Jo Baker

In Ella Jo Baker’s case, however, it’s time to shine a light on the way she put co-op principles into practice during a career dedicated to civil rights and economic justice.

Baker has been selected as the first Unsung Cooperative Hero in the Cooperative Hall of Fame, which is based in Washington, D.C. The ceremony for the native of Norfolk, Va., will take place Oct. 6 at the National Press Club.

“We find throughout history that the Black co-op movement was a silent partner in the long civil rights movement and essential to it,” says Jessica Gordon Nembhard, a professor at the City University of New York, who nominated Baker.

“This recognition of Ella Baker reminds us of that relationship, and of the important roles Black women have played in the co-op movement. This new category of Unsung Heroes in the Cooperative Hall of Fame allows us to remember and celebrate the contributions of the most invisible of our co-op leaders,” she says.

Baker died in 1986 on her 83rd birthday, leaving a lifelong commitment to co-op principles. She was a founding member and national director of the Young Negroes’ Cooperative League at the age of 27.

As the Cooperative Development Foundation reports, “Baker’s early work organizing and promoting cooperatives likely inspired and honed the ideas about participatory grassroots leadership strategy she is so loved and well known for, and she used those insights to inform her organizing for many other causes in the next 60 years.”

Baker was honored on a U.S. postage stamp in 2009, and now she’ll be among the giants of the Hall of Fame, thanks to her belief in the cooperative way.