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Charlotta Bass

Charlotta Bass was a remarkable woman who made history in many ways. She was an educator, a newspaper publisher-editor, and a civil rights activist. She was also the first African American woman to own and operate a newspaper in the United States, and the first African American woman nominated for Vice President. Bass was born on February 14, 1874, in Sumter, South Carolina. She moved to Rhode Island when she was 20 years old, where she worked for a local Black newspaper, the Providence Watchman. She later moved to California for her health and joined the staff of another Black newspaper, the California Eagle.

Portrait of Charlotta Bass, Providence ca. 1901–10

In 1912, she married Joseph Bass, who became the editor of the Eagle. Together, they transformed the paper into a powerful voice for social justice and racial equality. They exposed the Ku Klux Klan, advocated for housing rights, labor rights, voting rights, and opposed police brutality and harassment. They also celebrated the achievements of Black people, such as Jackie Robinson breaking the baseball color line in 1947.

After her husband’s death in 1934, Bass became the sole owner and publisher of the Eagle. She continued to run the paper until 1951, when she sold it to focus on her political career. She had degrees from Brown University and Columbia University, and took courses at the University of California. She was active in various civic and political organizations, such as the NAACP, the Urban League, and the National Council of Negro Women.

Charlotta Bass receives a bouquet of flowers at a congressional campaign rally in 1950. To her right is Reuben Borough, Progressive Party candidate for California treasurer; on the left is the folksinger Ernie Lieberman.

Bass was dissatisfied with both the Democratic and Republican parties, which she felt had neglected Black empowerment and women’s rights. She joined the Progressive Party, which advocated for peace, civil liberties, social welfare, and racial integration. In 1952, she became the party’s vice presidential nominee, running alongside Vincent Hallinan. She was the first African American woman to be nominated for such a high office in American history.

Although Bass and Hallinan did not win the election, they received over 140,000 votes and made a lasting impact on American politics. Bass continued to be involved in various causes until her death in 1969. She was buried at Evergreen Cemetery in East Los Angeles.

Bass and Paul Robeson, Los Angeles, 1949

Charlotta Bass was a pioneer who broke barriers and inspired generations of journalists, activists, and politicians. She was an American hero who deserves to be remembered and honored.

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