Decades before Kamala Harris became the first Indian-American and first Black woman to run for vice president on a major party ticket, Charlotta Bass made history.
Bass, an activist and journalist, became the first Black woman to run for vice president in the United States in the 1952, running on the Progressive Party ticket.
“This is a historic moment in American political life,” she told a crowd in Chicago in 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.”
In the early 1900s, Bass moved from Rhode Island to California where she got a job selling newspapers for The Eagle, one of the first Black newspapers in Los Angeles according to Denise Lynn, a history professor at University of Southern Indiana. Over time her responsibilities at the paper grew and its editor, Joseph Neimore, asked her to take over upon his death.
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For the next nearly 40 years, Bass served as the paper's editor during the formative years of race relations in California writing about labor, education, police brutality and women's suffrage at a time before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 made voting accessible for people of color. A devoted activist and believed to be the first Black woman to own a newspaper, Bass used the paper to protest the making of the film Birth of a Nation, face off against the Ku Klux Klan and support a Black nurses strike.
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"She used it really to put a spotlight on so many issues that particularly affected the Black community," said Jean Sinzdak, associate director for the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutger's University.
Bass got involved with the NAACP and the United Negro Improvement Association as her politics became more radical. Sinzdak said she was targeted by the FBI and at one point even had her passport confiscated.
Lynn said Bass was once a Republican, ran for office in Los Angeles as a Democrat and eventually rejected both major political parties because she saw them as "cheerleaders for the Cold War policy."
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"She tried mainstream politics," Lynn said. "The Cold War policy as far as she was concerned was committing the United States to endless wars, committing the United States to military build up at the expense of a social welfare state, committing the United States to neocolonialism abroad while ignoring the plight of Black Americans at home."
She turned to the Progressive Party, which had an explicitly anti-racist platform that called for the end of lynching, fair housing, access to medical care. Although Bass' nomination was a historic moment for radicals, Lynn said many mainstream Republicans and Democrats dismissed the party because it was associated with communism.
Bass and presidential hopeful Vincent Hallinan earned about 140,000 votes in the 1952 presidential election, which was won by Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Bass is one of eleven women to run for vice president along with Emma Wong Mar, the first Asian American woman nominee, and LaDonna Harris, the first Native American woman nominee, according to the Center for American Women in Politics.
Lynn said Bass is one of a number of Black women who laid the foundation for the progressive movement today like Angela Davis and Shirley Chisholm, who ran for president in 1972. Sinzdak agreed saying without the work of Bass and women like her, "I'm not sure that we would see Kamala Harris here today."
"It's historic this run that Kamala Harris is doing today, but she really stands on the shoulders of people like Charlotta Bass," she said. "We're sort of at the culmination of this moment that's built on decades of Black women’s political activism."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kamala Harris not the first Black woman VP nominee. Charlotta Bass was