Meet Charlotta BassMeet

Bass and Paul Robeson (1949)

She was born on February 14, 1874 in Sumter, South Carolina. Charlotta was the sixth out of eleven children for Hiram and Kate Spears. In 1894, she moved to Providence, Rhode Island to live with her brother. There she worked for the  black owned Providence Watchman for ten years selling ads. In 1910, she relocated to California for health reasons. After John J. Neimore passed away, she took control of The Eagle, another black owned paper.

Neimore made arrangements while he was sick for Charlotta to own the newspaper and a companion printing business. This made her the first African American woman to own and operate a newspaper. She changed the newpaper’s name to The California Eagle, and began to expand its coverage to issues affecting African Americans. She hired Joseph Blackburn Bass as an editor in 1912, and later married him. Charlotta continued to serve as its publisher until she retired in 1951. She and her husband Joseph used the Eagle to push for reforms against issues such as police brutality, restrictive housing, and the KKK.

Charlotta was a staunch adovate for civil liberties, women’s rights, and immigration. She championed local, black owned businesses. Because of her civil rights work, her life was threatened numerous times. The FBI placed her under surveillance and she was labelled a communist. Despite this, she prevailed. By the 1930s, The California Eagle was the largest African American paper on the West Coast. It stood on solid financial grounds, had a circulation of nearly 60,000, and took on important editoral stands.

Joseph died unexpectedly in 1934. Following his death, Charlotta reevaluated her purpose. She began participating in the NAACP, the Urban Leage, the Civil Rights Congress, and the UNIA. She also founded the National Sojourner for Truth and Justice Club, which sought to improve working conditions for black women.

Following her retirement, she devoted her life to politics. In 1952, she became the first African American woman to run for national office as the Vice Presidential candidate for the Progressive Party. She had no dreams of winning, but she campaigned with the slogan: “Win or lose, we win by raising the issues.”

Charlotta Bass is associated with the Historic Resources Associated with African Americans in Los Angeles Multi-Property Submission (MPS). It was approved and listed on the National Register of Historic Places on March 17, 2009.

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