Charlotta A. Bass stands among the most
influential African Americans of the twentieth century. A crusading journalist and extraordinary
political activist, she was at the forefront of the civil rights struggles of her time, especially
in Los Angeles, but also in California and the nation.
Bass was managing editor and publisher of the California Eagle,
from 1912 to 1951. The Eagle, founded in 1879, was one of the
longest running African American newspapers in the West. Bass was also
a political candidate at the local,
state, and national level, including running for vice president
of the United States on the Progressive Party ticket in 1952. She
used the newspaper, along with direct-action campaigns and the political
process, to challenge inequality for Blacks, workers, women, and
other minorities in Los Angeles. Her mission was nothing short of
achieving the equality and justice promised by the United States
Constitution. She believed her own role in society, and the role
of the Black community, was defined by Americanism, democracy, and
Acting on this belief, Bass was one of the pioneers who helped to lay the groundwork
for the later Civil Rights Movement and the women's liberation movement.
She fought important battles against job and housing discrimination,
police brutality, and media stereotyping, and for immigrant and
women's rights and civil liberties.
Over time, her role as an activist evolved from championing local
business concerns, to strengthening the labor movement, fighting
fascism at home and abroad during World War II, and showing a global
concern for world peace. Her leadership, courage, truth-telling,
and tenacity were an effective force in Los Angeles, and the world,
that yielded greater equality for Blacks, workers, and other people
Bass paid a price for her outspokenness. Her life was threatened
on numerous occasions. The FBI placed her under surveillance on
the charge that her newspaper was seditious and continued to monitor
her until her death. Accused of being a Communist, in 1950, she
was called before the California Legislature's Joint Fact-Finding Committee on un-American
Activities. The accusations began to take a toll on
her effectiveness in the community and her ability to sell her newspaper.
In 1951, she sold the paper and continued her work in the political
Whatever the consequences, Bass didn't waver in her pursuit of
justice. Both Bass and her newspaper served the people--fighting
for them, speaking for them, and leading them in battles against
inequality and injustice.
Learn more about Bass as an:
Born Charlotta Amanda Spears in Sumter, South Carolina, in 1879
or 1880, Bass was the sixth of eleven children. At the turn of the
century, Bass moved to Rhode Island. In 1910, she migrated to Los
Angeles to improve her health.
Soon after arriving, Bass sold subscriptions for the Eagle,
a black newspaper founded by John Neimore in 1879. Fulfilling the
deathbed request of Neimore, Bass became the Eagle's editor
and publisher in March 1912, a career lasting over forty years until
she sold the newspaper in 1951. In 1914, Bass hired and subsequently
married Joseph Blackburn Bass, a Kansas newspaperman, who edited
the paper until his death in 1934. They eventually changed the name
of the paper to the California Eagle. The couple had no
children, but Charlotta Bass was very close to her nephew John Kinloch,
who worked at the California Eagle.
Bass ran for several elected offices, including the Los Angeles
City Council, Congress, and the U.S. Vice Presidency. She was also
a founding member of California's Independent Progressive Party,
part of the national Progressive Party, a third party movement.
Moreover, she founded, led, and participated in numerous civil rights
organizations, where she met and befriended prominent activists
such as Paul
Robeson and W.E.B.
DuBois. While she was always active at the national level, Bass
devoted her greatest energy and activism to the pursuit of civil
rights in Los Angeles. Though many viewed Los Angeles as a racially
harmonious paradise, Bass used her positions as journalist, candidate,
and activist to expose and eliminate racism and injustice in the
Likely around 1960, Bass retired and moved to Lake Elsinore, California,
where she continued her civil rights activism. She turned her garage
into a community reading room and a voter registration site for
African Americans, and joined protests against South African apartheid
and on behalf of prisoners' rights. In 1966, Bass suffered a stroke
and died three years later from complications brought on by the stroke.
Charlotta Bass's steadfast fifty-plus year commitment to social
justice distinguishes her as a pioneering civil rights leader.
In grateful acknowledgement of Regina Freer and Marti Tippens,
who provided content for the Charlotta Bass story. Any inadvertent fact discrepancies
are the sole responsibility of the Southern California Library and
do not reflect on the expertise of these contributors.