Today we honor and celebrate a writer, activist, and politician: Charlotta Bass. Born Charlotta Spears in 1874 in South Carolina, she was the sixth of eleven children. At twenty, she moved to Providence, RI to live with her brother. While there, she began working at the Providence Watchman. After ten years, she moved to California for her health and began working at theCalifornia Eagle, a significant African-American newspaper. When a new editor, Joseph Bass, joined the paper in 1912, they quickly realized their shared passion for eliminating discrimination and injustice. They married soon after and became co-editors. By 1927, after the paper had new ownership and Bass was put in charge of all operations.
Her purpose for the California Eagle was to write about the wrongs of society. The newspaper served as a source of both information and inspiration for the black community, which was either ignored or negatively portrayed by the predominant white press. She wrote regular columns and ensured a consistent editorial policy. When her husband died in 1934, Charlotta took over as sole publisher of the paper, becoming the first African-American woman to run a newspaper. She also understood the intersections of oppression, and in the 1940’s, Bass’s newspaper pioneered multiethnic politics, advocating Asian American and Mexican American civil rights. (Sounds like a good social worker to me)
Bass was also an outspoken civil rights activist, working closely with the NAACP and the United Negro Improvement Association. During the Depression, she helped spearhead the “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” campaign, encouraging African-Americans to be selective shoppers and to open their own businesses. She served in a number of capacities as a political organizer and campaign coordinator, using her voice and her press to push for equality and against violence.
After she retired from the newspaper business in 1951, she was quickly approached by the Progressive Party. Nominated as their candidate for Vice President in 1952, she was the first African-American woman to run for national office. Her platform called for civil rights, women’s rights, an end to the Korean War, and peace with the Soviet Union. Bass’s slogan during the vice presidential campaign was, “Win or lose, we win by raising the issues.” She lived up to that claim, continuing to advocate for equality, quality education, and peace. She operated a small library out of her garage in her later years, providing books to neighborhood children, meeting her long commitment to local as well as national action. She died in 1969 but is still recognized today as an unmatched voice in the fight for a better world (I think I’m in love with this woman).