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Kamala Harris may be the first Black woman to be nominated for vice president on a major party’s ticket. But the first Black woman to run for vice president in the nation’s history was trailblazing newspaperwoman Charlotta Spears Bass.
The groundbreaking journalist and civil rights activist ran in 1952 on the Progressive Party ticket. She’s now the subject of a new PBS/WNET “American Masters” 12-minute short film, the final installment of a series focusing on 26 American women from 1890 to 1920.
The Associated Press reports that Bass was born in 1888 in Little Compton, Rhode Island (others have said she was born in Sumter, South Carolina). She rose to become publisher and owner of The California Eagle in 1912 following the death of the newspaper’s founder, John James Neimore. The Eagle served as Southern California’s Black newspaper and it pushed for civil rights while covering the community of Black migrants from Texas. With her husband, Joseph Bass, as editor, the paper took on police brutality, the Klu Klux Klan, and D.W. Griffith’s racist film, “Birth of A Nation.”
Filmmakers Charlotte Mangin and Sandra Rattley said they wanted to introduce Bass to a new generation since many people are unaware of her story. Mangin went through her archives in Southern California and discovered the original ballot where her name is listed during the 1952 presidential election. “I found her memoirs, which she wrote in the third person,” Mangin said. “Her life spans such an incredible century of change in American history. She’s constantly reinventing herself but always with the same message of social justice.”
The short is scheduled to be released on Wednesday, which falls on Women’s Equality Day. It will be available for free on the “American Masters” website.
Below are several videos about Bass and her accomplishments: