Women and the Early Press

What black woman is thought to be the first to own and publish a newspaper in this country?

Charlotta Bass (1874–1969) is thought to be the first woman to own and publish a newspaper in this country. She bought the California Owl in 1912 and ran it for some forty years. Bass was the Progressive Party’s vice-presidential candidate in 1952, another first for a black woman. Through her journalistic and political interests, she worked tirelessly on behalf of the elimination of racism and sexism. Bass was born in Sumter, South Carolina, and moved to Providence, Rhode Island, at age twenty, to work for a local newspaper. Ten years later, health reasons prompted her to move from Providence to Los Angeles, where she took a part-time job with the Eagle. The paper was suffering from both poor management and its editor’s ill health. When Bass assumed control of the paper, in 1912, she renamed it the California Eagle. She was married to John Bass in the same year, and they combined their efforts toward combating racial discrimination.

The film Birth of a Nation, injustice in the military during World War I, the 1919 Pan-African Conference, the 1931 alleged rape case in Scottsboro, Alabama, and discrimination in employment were among the concerns that came under the Eagle’s scrutiny. In her lifetime, Bass ran for three political offices, but was not successful in any of these races. She was, however, the first black grand jury member for the Los Angeles County Court. Her memoirs, published in 1960 as Forty Years: Memoirs from the Pages of a Newspaper, reveal the important part that black people played in the development of Los Angeles.

Charlotta Bass (seen here with civil rights leader Paul Robeson) was owner and publisher of the California Eagle.


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