In honor of this years theme, “Black Women in American Culture and History”, I am going to share and embrace something that I should have a LONG time ago… my middle name – Charlotta. It is the name of my grandmother who is an amazing woman in her own right but it was passed to her from another phenomenal woman in our family, Ms. Charlotta Amanda Spears Bass. As a people, it is important for us to know where we come from and that is greatness. Charlotta was an amazing woman who believe WE deserved more and fought for it. She accepted the Progressive Party’s 1952 nomination to run for Vice President of the United States. (See her acceptance speech). She was the first black woman to run for this office and she did it in her seventies!!! Since they knew it was a long shot, they ran with the slogan, “Win or Lose, We Win by Raising the Issues.” I wish a few more politians today ran with that thought in mind!!
From the Southern California Library: Charlotta A. Bass stands among the most influential African Americans of the twentieth century. A crusading journalist and extraordinary political activist, she was at the forefront of the civil rights struggles of her time, especially in Los Angeles, but also in California and the nation.
Bass was managing editor and publisher of the California Eagle, from 1912 to 1951. The Eagle, founded in 1879, was one of the longest running African American newspapers in the West. Bass was also a political candidate at the local, state, and national level, including running for vice president of the United States on the Progressive Party ticket in 1952. She used the newspaper, along with direct-action campaigns and the political process, to challenge inequality for Blacks, workers, women, and other minorities in Los Angeles. Her mission was nothing short of achieving the equality and justice promised by the United States Constitution. She believed her own role in society, and the role of the Black community, was defined by Americanism, democracy, and citizenship.
Acting on this belief, Bass was one of the pioneers who helped to lay the groundwork for the later Civil Rights Movement and the women’s liberation movement. She fought important battles against job and housing discrimination, police brutality, and media stereotyping, and for immigrant and women’s rights and civil liberties.
Over time, her role as an activist evolved from championing local business concerns, to strengthening the labor movement, fighting fascism at home and abroad during World War II, and showing a global concern for world peace. Her leadership, courage, truth-telling, and tenacity were an effective force in Los Angeles, and the world, that yielded greater equality for Blacks, workers, and other people facing oppression.
Bass paid a price for her outspokenness. Her life was threatened on numerous occasions. The FBI placed her under surveillance on the charge that her newspaper was seditious and continued to monitor her until her death. Accused of being a Communist, in 1950, she was called before the California Legislature’s Joint Fact-Finding Committee on un-American Activities. The accusations began to take a toll on her effectiveness in the community and her ability to sell her newspaper. In 1951, she sold the paper and continued her work in the political realm.
Whatever the consequences, Bass didn’t waver in her pursuit of justice. Both Bass and her newspaper served the people—fighting for them, speaking for them, and leading them in battles against inequality and injustice.
Learn more about Bass as an:
Born Charlotta Amanda Spears in Sumter, South Carolina, in 1879 or 1880, Bass was the sixth of eleven children. At the turn of the century, Bass moved to Rhode Island. In 1910, she migrated to Los Angeles to improve her health.
Soon after arriving, Bass sold subscriptions for the Eagle, a black newspaper founded by John Neimore in 1879. Fulfilling the deathbed request of Neimore, Bass became the Eagle’s editor and publisher in March 1912, a career lasting over forty years until she sold the newspaper in 1951. In 1914, Bass hired and subsequently married Joseph Blackburn Bass, a Kansas newspaperman, who edited the paper until his death in 1934. They eventually changed the name of the paper to the California Eagle. The couple had no children, but Charlotta Bass was very close to her nephew John Kinloch, who worked at the California Eagle.
Bass ran for several elected offices, including the Los Angeles City Council, Congress, and the U.S. Vice Presidency. She was also a founding member of California’s Independent Progressive Party, part of the national Progressive Party, a third party movement. Moreover, she founded, led, and participated in numerous civil rights organizations, where she met and befriended prominent activists such as Paul Robeson and W.E.B. DuBois. While she was always active at the national level, Bass devoted her greatest energy and activism to the pursuit of civil rights in Los Angeles. Though many viewed Los Angeles as a racially harmonious paradise, Bass used her positions as journalist, candidate, and activist to expose and eliminate racism and injustice in the city.
Likely around 1960, Bass retired and moved to Lake Elsinore, California, where she continued her civil rights activism. She turned her garage into a community reading room and a voter registration site for African Americans, and joined protests against South African apartheid and on behalf of prisoners’ rights. In 1966, Bass suffered a stroke and died three years later from complications brought on by the stroke.
Charlotta Bass’s steadfast fifty-plus year commitment to social justice distinguishes her as a pioneering civil rights leader.
Any inadvertent fact discrepancies are the sole responsibility of the Southern California Library and do not reflect on the expertise of these contributors.