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 citizenship.
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 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 facing oppression.
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 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 realm and fought for social justice. Both Bass and her newspaper served the people--fighting for them, speaking for them, and leading them in battles against inequality and injustice.
Courtesy Southern California Library.
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