Tag Archives: Activists

Black History Month 2012: Alice Dunbar Nelson

25 Feb

Today we celebrate noted poet, columnist, diarist, and activist Alice Dunbar Nelson. Born Alice Ruth Moore in New Orleans in 1875, she graduated from Dillard University in 1892 and began a career in teaching. Shortly before moving to New York in 1895, she published her first collection of poems and short stories,Violets and Other Tales. She began a correspondence with poet Paul Laurence Dunbar and moved to Washington, DC in 1898 to marry him. Dunbar was uncomfortable with his wife’s bisexuality and same-sex affairs and they separated by 1902.

She moved to Wilmington, DE at this point, returning to teaching and writing. She married journalist Robert J. Nelson in 1910. In 1915, Alice Dunbar Nelson worked as a field organizer in her region for woman’s suffrage. During World War I, she served with the Women’s Commission on the Council of National Defense and the Circle of Negro War Relief. She helped found the Industrial School for Colored Girls in Delaware, organized for anti-lynching reforms, and served 1928-1931 as executive secretary of the American Friends Inter-Racial Peace Committee.

From about 1920 on, she made a commitment to journalism and was a highly successful columnist, with articles, essays and reviews appearing as well in newspapers, magazines, and academic journals. She was a popular speaker and had an active schedule of lectures through these years. She also engaged in the arts and literature boom known as the Harlem Renaissance, a movement which included such luminaries as Langston Hughes, Nella Larsen, and Zora Neale Hurston. She died in 1935 at the age of 60.

Black History Month 2012: Charlotta Bass

22 Feb

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).

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