Charlotta Bass was the first black woman to run for VP before Kamala Harris

Theodora Aidoo Aug 13, 2020 at 12:00pm

August 13, 2020 at 12:00 pm | History, Opinions & Features, Women

Theodora Aidoo

Theodora Aidoo | Staff Writer

August 13, 2020 at 12:00 pm | History, Opinions & Features, Women

Charlotta Bass, the first Black woman to run for VP - Pic Credit: Herald-Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

Long before Kamala Harris was picked as the first Asian-American and perhaps the first Black woman to run as vice president in America for a major political party, there was Charlotta Bass.

Bass, a newspaper publisher was the first black woman to run for national office as the vice presidential candidate for the Progressive Party in 1952. She campaigned with the slogan “Win or lose, we win by raising the issues.”

“This is a historic moment in American political life,” Bass told the crowd during her acceptance speech. “Historic for myself, for my people, for all women. For the first time in the history of this nation, a political party has chosen a Negro woman for the second-highest office in the land.”

Way before becoming the first to be nominated for Vice President of the United States, in 1912, Bass who was a civil rights activist became the first African American woman to own and operate a newspaper in the United States.

As an editor and publisher of the California Eagle, the oldest black newspaper on the West Coast, Bass used her position to fight segregation in housing and schools.

Charlotta Bass, a newspaper publisher and Black political activist, ran as the Progressive Party candidate for vice president in 1952.
Pic Credit: Bettmann Archive

Born on February 14, 1874, in Sumter, South Carolina, United States, Bass devoted her career to aggressively publicizing and combating racial inequality. She campaigned to end race-based job discrimination at the Los Angeles General Hospital, the Los Angeles Rapid Transit Company, the Southern Telephone Company and the Boulder Dam Project.

According to the California museum, during the 1920s, Bass became co-president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. She formed the Home Protective Association to fight against housing covenants that prevented people of colour from buying homes and helped found the Industrial Business Council, which fought discrimination in employment and encouraged black people to go into business.

She married Joseph Bass, cofounder of the Topeka Plaindealer who worked as editor of the California Eagle. Together, the couple used the paper passionately to denounce D.W. Griffith’s film “The Birth of a Nation” and also opposed the harsh punishment of black soldiers involved in a 1917 race riot in Houston, Texas.

In 1925 the Ku Klux Klan unsuccessfully sued the newspaper for libel. In 1931 the Basses denounced the results of the Scottsboro case. They were said to have also lent their support to A. Philip Randolph as he fought against discrimination in hiring for railroad jobs.

She continued to manage the California Eagle on her own following her husband’s death in 1934. The Republican Party chose Bass as western regional director for Wendell Willkie’s presidential bid in 1940.

Three years later, she became the first African-American grand jury member for the Los Angeles County Court, and in 1945 she was chosen by city representatives as the people’s candidate in an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the Los Angeles city council.

By the late 1940s, Bass left the Republican Party to help found the Progressive Party, which according to her was “the only party in which there is any hope for civil rights”. She campaigned heavily for Henry Wallace in his 1948 bid for the presidency.

As the first African-American woman to run for Vice President of the United States, Bass called for civil rights, women’s rights, an end to the Korean War and peace with the Soviet Union but she and her running mate lost the election by a wide margin  

In 1960 Bass published Forty Years: Memoirs from the Pages of a Newspaper, which provides both a history of the California Eagle and personal reflections on her own career.

Bass who helped usher the idea of a Black female candidate fully into the political mainstream died on April 12, 1969, in Los Angeles.

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