Charlotta Bass, publisher, managing editor, and reporter of the California Eagle
from 1912 to 1951, used the newspaper as a powerful tool in her pioneering fight
for social justice and equality in Los Angeles and the nation.
Her newspaper career spanned forty years, through World War I and World War II,
the Great Depression, the Central Avenue Renaissance in Los Angeles, the California
Legislature's investigations on "un-American" activities, and the early civil rights movement.
Throughout all these eras and changing times, the California Eagle was Bass'
voice in her social activism. She used the newspaper, and her weekly editorial column, "On
the Sidewalk," as instruments to fight for change.
|Charlotta Bass in front of the
Eagle's printing plant, 1929-1934.
Bass practiced "advocacy" journalism, which challenges today's notion
that news reporting should be "unbiased." In advocacy journalism, the newspaper openly
takes a stand and presents the news from that position. Moreover, in advocacy journalism,
the newspaper is not merely reporting information but is involved in the process of making
the news. Although journalists of the black press often practiced a community journalism
in which the newspapers published platforms and the publishers were community
leaders, Bass's level of activism was extraordinary. See the
platform of the
California Eagle, published December 19, 1930.
Like most black newspapers of that period, the California Eagle served
as a source of both information and inspiration for the black community, which
was largely ignored or negatively portrayed by the white press. With national and
international coverage, the California Eagle brought black Angelenos in
touch with struggles for civil rights taking place in other parts of the country
and across the globe. The paper also helped to bring Los Angeles-based civil rights
struggles to the national stage.
Committed to producing a quality newspaper, in 1926-27 Bass spent three months
taking journalism courses at Columbia University. Upon her return, she created
her "On the Sidewalk" column, which appeared weekly on the front page of the
California Eagle from 1927 to 1951. "On the Sidewalk," and her other
editorial contributions to the newspaper, were the medium through which Bass
created, framed, and led battles to bring about social and economic equality
for oppressed people. She was not content with merely describing unjust conditions,
but used the columns to promote direct-action campaigns to bring about reform.
With offices located on Central Avenue in the heart of Los Angeles's black community,
the California Eagle promoted black businesses and the hiring of
African Americans in the area, initiating the local "Don't Shop Where You Can't Work"
campaign. The paper also included news about politics, religion, sports, and
entertainment in the black community. An article in the April 4, 1924, issue of the
Eagle gives the circulation as 60,000, including state and national
distribution. At that time, the Eagle had 12 employees and published 20 pages a week.
The N.W. Ayers & Sons "Directory of Newspapers and Periodicals for 1940" reports
a circulation of 17,600 in Los Angeles. Neither circulation figure may be completely
on the mark. Unquestionably, however, the Eagle was one of the largest black newspapers
on the West Coast into the thirties and continued to be influential for most of its existence.
Beginning in 1938, the Eagle also produced a 15-minute
newspaper-of-the-air, which was broadcast six nights a week on radio station KGFJ. The
show was off the air for awhile but sometime around 1940 the Eagle began
presenting "The California Eagle Hour" every Sunday over station KFVD. The program
provided information about news, sports, social events, and other activities in
Los Angeles' black community.
In April 1951, amid accusations of being a Communist that took a financial toll
on the newspaper, Bass published her last issue and sold it soon after. In 1960, she
wrote and published Forty Years, an autobiography that highlighted the
achievements of the California Eagle.
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