Charlotta Bass

Charlotta Amanda Spears Bass (February 14, 1874[1] – April 12, 1969) was an American educator, newspaper publisher-editor, and civil rights activist. She also focused on various other issues such as housing rights, voting rights, and labor rights, as well as police brutality and harassment.[2] Bass is believed to be the first African-American woman to own and operate a newspaper in the United States; she published the California Eagle from 1912 until 1951.[3] In 1952, Bass became the first African-American woman nominated for Vice President, as a candidate of the Progressive Party.

Charlotta Bass
Portrait of Charlotta Bass, Providence ( ), ca. 1901-1910 (scl-mss064-0451~1) retouched.jpg
Charlotta Bass, ca. 1901–1910
Charlotta Amanda Spears

(1874-02-14)February 14, 1874
DiedApril 12, 1969(1969-04-12) (aged 95)
Resting placeEvergreen Cemetery, East Los Angeles, California
Occupationeducator, newspaper publisher/editor, and civil rights activist
Known for
  • first African-American woman to own and operate a newspaper in the United States
  • first African-American woman nominated for Vice President
Spouse(s)Joseph Bass

Due to her activities, Bass was repeatedly accused of being part of the Communist Party, for which there was no evidence and which Bass herself repeatedly denied. She was monitored by the FBI, who continued to view her as a potential security threat up until she was in her nineties.


Charlotta Amanda Spears was born on February 14, 1874, to Hiram and Kate Spears. Some sources give her birthplace as in Sumter, South Carolina,[4][5] while other sources suggest she was born in Little Compton, Rhode Island.[6][7] She was the sixth child of eleven. She received an education from public schools and one semester at Pembroke College in Brown University.[4][6][5] When she was twenty years old, she moved to live with her brother Ellis in Providence, Rhode Island, where she worked selling subscriptions for the Providence Watchman, a local Black newspaper.[5][4] Spears worked for the Providence Watchman for about ten years.

She moved to California at age 36[6] for her health and ended up working at the California Eagle. Her first job at the California Eagle consisted of selling subscriptions.[4] When its founder John Neimore died, she assumed the role of editor for the paper.[4] She later became the owner of the California Eagle after purchasing it in auction for fifty dollars.[4] At this time she took courses at Columbia University and University of California. In 1912, a new editor, Joseph Bass joined the Eagle. Bass had been one of the founders of the Topeka Plaindealer. He shared his concern with Spears about the injustice and racial discrimination in society.[8]

Marriage and familyEdit

Charlotta Spears married Joseph Bass, and they ran the Eagle together. She had no children.

California EagleEdit

Charlotta Bass lived in the 52nd Place Historic District during the 1930s.

The Eagle developed a large black readership. By 1925, the Eagle employed a staff of twelve and published twenty pages a week. The Eagle's circulation of 60,000 made it the largest African-American newspaper on the West Coast.[9] It is credited as pioneering multiethnic politics, advocating Asian-American and Mexican-American civil rights in the 1940s, during which time the California Eagle, along with other African-American presses, were under investigation by the Office of the Secretary of War, who viewed it as a threat to national security.[4]:102 The Department of Justice interrogated Bass in 1942 over claims that the paper was funded by Japan and Germany.[4]:102

When the editor John J. Neimore became ill, he turned the operations of the Eagle over to Spears. After Neimore's death, "it turned out, this Black-founded newspaper was owned by a white man, who offered his support only if [Spears] would become his 'sweetheart.' 'Get out, you dirty dog!' she told him. She borrowed $50 from a local store owner to purchase the deed."[10] She renamed the newspaper company to the California Eagle due to increasing social and political issues. 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 often ignored or negatively portrayed by the predominant white press.[11] As publisher, Bass was committed to producing a quality periodical. In her weekly column "On the Sidewalk", begun in 1927, she drew attention to unjust social and political conditions for all Los Angeles minority communities and campaigned vigorously for reform.

Bass and Paul Robeson, Los Angeles, 1949

Bass published the California Eagle from 1912 until 1951. Bass and her husband combated such issues as the derogatory images in D. W. Griffith's film, The Birth of a Nation; Los Angeles' discriminatory hiring practices; the revival of the Ku Klux Klan; police brutality; and restrictive housing covenants.[8] In her pursuit against the Ku Klux Klan Bass received threatening phone calls and at one point was confronted by eight men robed in white, who she scared off after displaying a firearm.[12] She was also unsuccessfully sued for libel by Klan leader G.W. Price after Bass published a letter from the clan which detailed plans to exterminate black leaders.[4]:98

The Basses championed the black soldiers of the Twenty-Fourth Infantry who were unjustly sentenced in the 1917 Houston race riot. They also covered the case and supported the "Scottsboro Boys," nine young men who were framed and convicted of rape in Scottsboro, Alabama, in 1931.[citation needed]

In 1934, Joseph Bass died and Charlotta Bass assumed control of the paper. During this time period the California Eagle, along with other African-American presses, were under investigation by the Office of the Secretary of War, who viewed it as a threat to national security.[4]:102 The Department of Justice interrogated Bass in 1942 over claims that the paper was funded by Japan and Germany.[4]:102 The FBI continued to monitor Bass, as they deemed her actions as advocating the Communist Party despite a lack of evidence and Bass herself denying any assertions of the kind.[4]:102–103, 104 In 1943, the Department of Justice was asked by the Post Office Department to revoke her mailing permit. The Post Office Department argued that the newspaper could not be mailed due to sensitive and illegal material within the paper. Bass again won the case, and the Department of Justice said her mailing permit would not be revoked.[4]:103

Bass continued to use the paper as a way of raising awareness of various issues facing African-Americans and other minorities such as restrictive covenants in housing, which the United States Supreme Court found to be unconstitutional in 1948.[4]

Bass continued to run the California Eagle on her own until selling it in 1951 and moving to New York City, where she focused on politics.[4]:105 Her activism and political activities would result in continued belief that she was a communist, which she continued to deny.[4][12]

Political activitiesEdit

During the 1920s, Bass became co-president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, founded by Marcus Garvey.[13] Bass formed the Home Protective Association to defeat housing covenants in all-white neighborhoods. She helped found the Industrial Business Council, which fought discrimination in employment practices and encouraged black people to go into business. As editor and publisher of the California Eagle, the oldest black newspaper on the West Coast, Charlotta Bass fought against restrictive covenants in housing[14] and segregated schools in Los Angeles. She campaigned to end job discrimination at the Los Angeles General Hospital, the Los Angeles Rapid Transit Company, the Southern Telephone Company, and the Boulder Canyon Project.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, she continued to encourage black businesses with the campaign known as "Don't Buy Where You Can't Work".[15] A longtime Republican, she voted for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, in 1936.[10]

As a leader of both the NAACP and the UNIA, Bass spanned the divide between integrationist and separatist black politics. She was the director of the Youth Movement of the NAACP. It had 200 members, including some actors and actresses, such as Lena Horne, Hattie McDaniel, and Louise Beavers.[16]

In 1940, the Republican Party chose Bass as western regional director for Wendell Willkie's presidential campaign. Three years later, she became the first African-American grand jury member for the Los Angeles County Court. Also in 1943, Bass led a group of black leaders to the office of the Mayor of Los Angeles, 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.[17] Then later in the 1940s, Bass left the Republican Party and joined the Progressive Party because she believed neither of the major parties was committed to civil rights.

Bass also ran for the Los Angeles City Council in the 1940s using the song-title slogan “Don’t Fence Me In” to highlight her condemnation of housing discrimination.[10]

Bass 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.[18] That year, she was nominated for vice president of the United States by the Progressive Party. She was the running mate of lawyer Vincent Hallinan.[19] Bass became the first African-American woman to run for vice president of the United States. 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."[20] She was endorsed by Paul Robeson, W.E.B. DuBois and Ada B. Jackson in campaign material during her run. She began the campaign on her own as Hallinan served out a six-month contempt of court sentence arising from his legal defense of union leader Harry Bridges.[10]

Bass worked on issues that also attracted Luisa Moreno, who was active in Afro-Chicano politics in Los Angeles during the 1930s-1950. No record shows that the two women ever met, but in 1943 both served on the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee, a multiracial group that fought for the release of several Chicanos convicted of murder by an all-white jury making Bass and Moreno part of the same "constellation" of struggle. Bass 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 her autobiography, Forty Years (1960), Bass 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 ... [21]

In 1966, Bass had a stroke and afterwards retired to a Los Angeles nursing home.[4] In 1967, at age ninety-one the FBI still classified Charlotta Bass as a potential security threat.[4]

During her years of retirement, she maintained a library in her garage for the young people in her neighborhood. It was a continuation of her long fight to give all people opportunities and education. She died in Los Angeles on April 12, 1969 from a cerebral hemorrhage. She is buried alongside her husband in Evergreen Cemetery, Boyle Heights,[10] East Los Angeles, California. The grave marker only names her husband.[10][22]

Inter-racial political activitiesEdit

Gaye Johnson's essay, Constellations of Struggle (2008) examines Charlotta Bass and Luisa Moreno's significance on political activism and how it relates to the history of struggle communities of color have faced.[23] Both Charlotta Bass and Luisa Moreno shared a "mutual struggle" and were active in fighting for civil rights through organizations together and through their own pursuits.[23] Charlotta Bass primarily focused on the African American community and Luisa Moreno on the Chicano community but both supported a variety of civil rights.[23] Both women were active in the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee, labor rights, and civil rights throughout their lives.[23] Both women also used a technique of influencing one community at a time, employing antiracist activism, and bringing awareness.[23]

Through the California Eagle Charlotta Bass was able to have readers recognize the struggles of communities of color.[23] Even when Charlotta Bass was faced with her own struggles with United States officials she used it as opportunities to further the influence of her paper.[23] This can be seen after her detainment by United States officials caused her to miss her flight to China for a conference, where afterwards she continued to work on the next issue of the paper.[23] Charlotta Bass was able to strengthen the community by pointing out the issues in Los Angeles, bringing the African American community together.[23] With the strategy of one community at a time she was able to publicize the unequal treatment in a majority of issues from housing to police brutality.[23] Through the newspaper she was able reverse the long used tactic of blaming people of color to shift the blame onto white officials who were responsible for the unequal treatment continued to be perpetuated in various areas such as housing and police brutality.[23]

Gaye Johnson's book, Spaces of Conflict, Sounds of Solidarity (2013) furthers this concept of "constellations of struggle" by looking at the "history of resistance" where communities have fought back and how they have reclaimed space.[24] The work of Charlotta Bass and Luisa Moreno represents an interracial struggle and moments of solidarity.[24] These moments of solidarity between African Americans and Mexicans was a way of reclaiming space through not only political means but through leisure spaces like music.[24] When communities of color were violently attacked by whites it brought these communities together to further resist by unifying their forces together.[24]

The California Eagle was utilized as a tool to change the communities ideology by challenging the police even comparing their tactics to Hitler's tactics, challenging the assumption criminal behavior was biological in people of color, and linked fascism to racism.[24] The California Eagle was a way of reaching global attention to the issues of people of color.[24] Charlotta Bass was able to promote the creation of "spatial entitlement" by bringing communities together through her work with organizations and the newspaper.[24]


Charlotta Bass is known for her work as owner and editor of the California Eagle from the 1912 to 1951.[25] The California Eagle was used as a platform for publicizing the issues of the African American community and later included the issues of a variety of civil rights.[23] She worked to improve the conditions of people of color through a multitude of civil rights such as housing rights, labor rights, voting rights, and police brutality.[26] She was the first African American woman to be a jury member in the Los Angeles County Court and to run for Vice President of the United States.[12]

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ Birthdate listed as 1874 from Charlotta Bass via PBS, and October 1880 from Encyclopædia Britannica and others.
  2. ^ Freer, Regina (2004). "L.A. Race Woman: Charlotta Bass and the Complexities of Black Political Development in Los Angeles". American Quarterly. 56 (3): 607–632. doi:10.1353/aq.2004.0034. ISSN 1080-6490. S2CID 144912374.
  3. ^ Nancy A. Hewitt. A Companion to American Women's History, Blackwell Publishing, p. 237 (2002), ISBN 0-631-21252-3
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Streitmatter, Rodger (1994). Raising Her Voice: African-American Women Journalists Who Changed History (1 ed.). University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813118611. JSTOR j.ctt130jn0r.
  5. ^ a b c "Overlooked No More: Before Kamala Harris, There Was Charlotta Bass". The New York Times. 4 September 2020. Retrieved 5 September 2020. Charlotta Amanda Spears is believed to have been born in Sumter, S.C., around 1880 ... Bass enrolled at Pembroke, the women’s college that is now a part of Brown University, and got a job selling subscriptions for a local Black newspaper.
  6. ^ a b c "Register of the Charlotta A. Bass Papers". Online Archive of California. Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research. Retrieved 5 September 2020. Charlotta Bass, nee Spears, was born on February 14, 1874 in Little Compton, Rhode Island. She attended Brown University, Columbia University and UCLA. At 36 years of age, she moved to Los Angeles and Joined the Eagle later to become the California Eagle.
  7. ^ "Charlotta Bass". The Boston Globe. 31 August 1952. p. 43. Retrieved 5 September 2020. Born in Little Compton, R.I., Mrs. Charlotta Bass ... has taken courses at Brown University, Columbia University, and the University of California at Los Angeles
  8. ^ a b Thompson, Kathleen (2010). "Bass, Charlotta Spears". Oxford University Press. Retrieved February 1, 2012.
  9. ^ Rodger Streitmatter. Raising Her Voice-Pa: African-American Women Journalists who Changed History, University Press of Kentucky, p. 100, (1994) - ISBN 0-8131-0830-6
  10. ^ a b c d e f Bennett, Jessica, "Overlooked No More: Before Kamala Harris, There Was Charlotta Bass", New York Times, September 4, 2020. Retrieved 2020-09-05.
  11. ^ "Charlotta Bass / California Eagle Photograph Collection", 1880-1986, University Southern California. Libraries. Accessed February 16, 2012. Archived March 25, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^ a b c Los Angeles Times, C Rasmussen (30 April 1993). "LA scene". ProQuest 1831822548. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  13. ^ Marcus Garvey. The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, University of California Press, p. 92 (1983) - ISBN 0-520-05446-6
  14. ^ Thomas R. Hietala. The Fight of the Century: Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, and the Struggle for Racial Equality, M.E. Sharpe, p. 208, (2002) - ISBN 0-7656-0722-0
  15. ^ Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, Sharon Harley. The Afro-American Woman: Struggles and Images, Black Classic Press, 1997 - ISBN 1-57478-026-3
  16. ^ Robert L. Allen, Lee Brown. Strong in the Struggle: My Life as a Black Labor Activist, Rowman & Littlefield, p. 42, (2001) - ISBN 0-8476-9191-8
  17. ^ Gerald D. Nash. The American West Transformed: The Impact of the Second World War, University of Nebraska Press, p. (1990) - ISBN 0-8032-8360-1
  18. ^ Gerald Horne. Race Woman: The Lives of Shirley Graham Du Bois, NYU Press, p. 144, (2002) - ISBN 0-8147-3648-3
  19. ^ Johnson, John H., ed. (March 20, 1952). "Charlotta Bass named for presidential ticket". Jet. Chicago, Illinois: Johnson Publishing Company, Inc. 1 (21): 9.
  20. ^ Bass, Charlotta Spears. Forty Years: Memoirs from the Pages of a Newspaper, Unpublished manuscript available at Southern California Research Library and the Schomburg Library in New York, 1960.
  21. ^ Charlotta A. Bass, Forty Years: Memoirs from the Pages of a Newspaper (Los Angeles: C.A. Bass, 1960)
  22. ^ "Joseph Blackburn Bass", Via J. Bennett, "Overlooked ...", New York Times, September 4, 2020. Retrieved 2020-09-05.
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Johnson, Gaye Theresa (2008). "Constellations of Struggle: Luisa Moreno, Charlotta Bass, and the Legacy for Ethnic Studies". Aztlan. 33 (1): 155–172.
  24. ^ a b c d e f g Johnson, Gaye Theresa (2013). Spaces of Conflict, Sounds of Solidarity: Music, Race, and Spatial Entitlement in Los Angeles. American Crossroads. UP California. ISBN 978-0520275287.
  25. ^ Freer, Regina (2004). "L.A. Race Woman: Charlotta Bass and the Complexities of Black Political Development in Los Angeles". American Quarterly. 56 (3): 607–632. doi:10.1353/aq.2004.0034. ISSN 1080-6490. S2CID 144912374.
  26. ^ Los Angeles Times, N Yates (30 March 1994). "Women in L.A. history". ProQuest 1973834424. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)

Further readingEdit

  • John M. Findlay. Power and Place in the North American West by Richard White. University of Washington Press, 1999. ISBN 0-295-97773-6
  • Obituary: Los Angeles Sentinel, 17 April 1969

External linksEdit

Preceded by
Glen H. Taylor
Progressive Party nominee for
Vice President of the United States

Succeeded by