Home Media Looking Back: Charlotta Spears, the first Black female VP candidate

Looking Back: Charlotta Spears, the first Black female VP candidate

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s long VP vetting process came to an end Tuesday with the announcement of Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate. Harris is the first Black woman and first South Asian-American to be the vice presidential nominee on a major party ticket. With her candidacy, the U.S. is on track for a possible historical election, as no woman has ever held the office of vice president. 

The campaign trail has seen a number of female VP candidates. If you look back to 1952, you’ll discover the first Black woman candidate for the vice presidency: Charlotta Spears Bass. Representing the Progressive Party, Bass and presidential candidate Vincent Hallinan lost, but it was no matter to her. As reported by America Comes Alive, Bass’ intention was not to win, but bring awareness. Her campaign motto was “win or lose, we win by raising the issues.” 

A series of firsts

Bass was not only a trailblazer in politics, but in journalism as well. In May 1912, according to Britannica, she took over the California Eagle, becoming the first African American woman to own and operate a newspaper. That same year, Joseph Bass began working at the paper, and the two soon married. Together the couple transformed the newspaper into a civil rights tool, attacking racial discrimination and segregation, such as police brutality, restrictive housing and the KKK. They took on denouncing D.W. Griffith’s KKK-celebrating film “The Birth of a Nation” and the Scottsboro case verdict, where 9 Black teenage boys were convicted of rape in Scottsboro, Alabama. The National Park Service reports the California Eagle was the largest African American newspaper on the West Coast. The newspaper is also noted for being among the first to advocate for multi-ethnic politics, as they included Asian- and Mexican-Americans in their civil rights efforts.

Progressive, with age

After her husband died in 1934, Bass became even more civically engaged. She founded the Industrial Business Council and National Sojourner for Truth and Justice Club and participated in the NAACP, the Urban League, the Civil Rights Congress and Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association. Her progressiveness led her to be branded a communist, according to PBS, and the FBI placed her under surveillance until age 91. In 1947, she was the first Black woman to serve on a grand jury in Los Angeles.

The civil rights leader summed up her own life pretty well: “In public, in private, wherever I have heard the challenge… I have continued to this day to work and fight and struggle toward the light of a better day.”

This article was edited since publication to update Joe Biden’s announcement of Kamala Harris as his vice president running mate.

Haley Bosselman
Haley Bosselman is the editor-in-chief of Culturas. She grew up in Orange County and moved to Los Angeles after earning her bachelor's degree in journalism from Arizona State University. In May 2020, Haley completed the Master of Science in journalism program at the University of Southern California. She's written a lot about music, but is geared toward any culture-related storytelling.
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