Charlotta Bass and Paul Robeson,
Los Angeles, 1949
Charlotta Amanda Spears Bass (February 14, 1874 – April 12, 1969) was an American educator, newspaper publisher-editor, and civil rights activist. Bass was probably the first African American woman to own and operate her own newspaper in the United States; she published the California Eagle from 1912 until 1951. In 1952 Bass became the first African American woman nominated for Vice President, as a candidate of the Progressive Party.
Read more about Charlotta Bass, free from the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research.
Celebrate Black History Month with The Courier Born Charlotta Spears in Sumter, South Carolina, United States, the sixth of eleven children born to Hiram Spears, a brick mason and his wife, Kate, a housewife. She moved to Rhode Island after high school and began working in the newspaper business. She moved to Los Angeles, California in 1910, to improve her health. Soon after arriving in the city, she took a job selling subscriptions to the small African American newspaper the California Owl. Just before the owner John J. Neimore died, he asked Bass to take over the paper. Changing the name to the California Eagle, Bass in 1913 hired Joseph Blackburn "J.B" Bass, who eventually became the editor of the paper as well as Bass's husband.
After J.B. Bass's death in 1934, Charlotta Bass continued and expanded the paper's political advocacy, highlighting many of her issues and causes. By 1925, the California Eagle employed a staff of twelve and published twenty pages a week. The Eagle's circulation of sixty thousand made it the largest African American newspaper on the West Coast.
As editor and publisher of the California Eagle, then the oldest black newspaper on the West Coast, she had fought against restrictive covenants in housing and segregated schools in Los Angeles. She had also taken part in successful campaigns to end job discriminations at the Los Angeles General Hospital, the Los Angeles Rapid Transit Company, the Southern Telephone Company, and the Boulder Dam Project. Bass was copresident of the Los Angeles division of Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association during the early 1920s, and was a West Coast promoter of the "Don't Buy Where You Can't Work" campaigns of the mid to late 1930s.
In 1943, Bass led a group of black leaders on a visit to Mayor Fletcher Bowron's office. They demanded an expansion of the Mayor's Committee on American Unity, more public mass meetings to promote interracial unity, and an end to the discriminatory hiring practices of the privately owned Los Angeles Railway Company. The mayor listened, but agreed to do no more than to expand his committee. She was the director of the Youth Movement of the NAACP. The Youth NAACP has two hundred members, including some actors and actresses, such as Lena Horne, Hattie McDaniel, and Louise Beavers. She also served in 1952 as the National Chairman of the Sojourners for Truth and Justice, an organization of black women set up to protest racial violence in the South. After years as a registered Republican, she left the party in 1948. In the Progressive Party presidential campaign of 1952, she was the running mate of lawyer Vincent Hallinan.
She wrote her last column for the California Eagle on April 26, 1951, and sold the paper soon after. Considering the sum of her career as she was completing Forty Years (1960), Charlotta wrote: "It has been a good life that I have had, through a very hard one, but I know the future will be even better, And as I think back I know that is the only kind of life: In serving one's fellow man one serves himself best . . . "
Charlotta Bass died April 12, 1969 of a cerebral hemorrhage in Los Angeles, California.