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AfriGeneas Writers Forum

Charlotta Bass & The California Eagle

Dear Writers:

Sometimes we forget to include news journalists on our list of writers. Perhaps the story below will inspire you to write an article for a newspaper or magazine.

Early African American newspapers told our story from their perspective, and our collective experience. Filmmaker Stanley Nelson (PBS: Soldiers Without Swords...) said, "I realized then that Black newspapers were fascinating in themselves and told their own story."

The career of publisher Charlotta Bass, and the California Eagle tells the story of African American life through its photographs. The University of Southern California presents close to 500 images from the Charlotta Bass collection. The images from California's oldest black newspaper feature local, political and international events.

The University of Southern California introduces the collection this way:

"The Charlotta Bass/California Eagle Photograph Collection is comprised of almost 500 photographs that were among the personal papers and artifacts of Charlotta Bass, publisher of the California Eagle from 1912-1951. The photos can be divided into 6 general categories: 1.) Photographs illustrating Bass' career as the Eagle's publisher and editor, her political activities, including her candidacies for U.S. Congress and Vice President on the Progressive Party ticket, and her trip to Prague and the Soviet Union; 2.) Personal photographs of Bass with family, colleagues and friends, and photos of Bass' relatives, friends and acquaintances; 3.) Photographs of reporters and other employees of the California Eagle: 4.) Photographs published in the California Eagle that illustrate various aspects of political and social life in Los Angeles' African-American community; 5.) Other photographs of African-Americans; 6.) Photographs published in the California Eagle of various news events, including labor union activities, the activities of the Civil Rights Congress, and citizens protesting the Communist "witch hunts" of the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Charlotta A. Bass (1879-1969) had a multi-faceted career as a businessperson, journalist, activist and political candidate. Born in Sumter, South Carolina, she lived in Providence, Rhode Island before moving to Los Angeles in 1910. That year Bass began selling subscriptions to The Eagle. Two years later she became the owner/publisher/editor of the renamed California Eagle. For forty years Bass used the paper as a vehicle for advancing a range of social causes and community activism ranging from voter registration, housing and employment discrimination, police brutality and human rights. In April 1951 Bass published her last issue of The California Eagle and sold the paper soon afterward. Bass ran for Los Angeles City council in 1945, U.S. Congress in 1950 and was the Progressive Party's U.S. Vice-Presidential candidate in 1952. Bass retired to Lake Elsinor. Three years after suffering a severe stroke she died in 1969

In 1879 John J. Neimore founded the oldest African American owned newspaper in Los Angeles. Originally called "The Owl", he later he renamed it "The Eagle." When the paper was taken over by Charlotta A. Bass in 1912 it was renamed finally to "The California Eagle." The newspaper served as a source of both information and inspiration for the black community, which was either ignored or negatively portrayed by the predominant white press. As publisher, Bass was committed to producing a quality periodical. In her weekly column, "On the Sidewalk," begun in 1927, she drew attention to unjust social and political conditions for all Los Angeles minority communities and campaigned vigorously for reform. Bass' husband, who she had hired in 1913 and married shortly thereafter, served as the paper's editor until his death in 1934. Bass ran the paper by herself until 1951 when she sold it. The paper ceased publication in 1965."

(From the Charlotta Bass / California Eagle Photograph Collection, Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research, Los Angeles. Digitally reproduced by the University of Southern California Digital Archive.)

The link below will take you to the collection images.

Please join me in sharing the history of black newspapers and some of your favorite journalists.

Write Away


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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