From the great migration to the civil rights movement and beyond, those who have stood at the frontlines of storytelling in the form of journalism have played the most critical role in leading our movement forward. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we would like to highlight the profound impact of the newspaper known as The California Eagle and its publisher, Charlotta A. Bass.
What started as The California Owl, founded in 1879 by John J. Neimore, became the longest-running African American newspaper on the West Coast, providing a voice for the Black community for over 90 years. Charlotta A. Bass took ownership of The California Owl after Mr. Neimore’s death in 1912 and renamed it The California Eagle newspaper. Under the leadership of Ms. Bass, the publication’s readership reached new heights. Ms. Bass used the newspaper as a tool to fight against Jim Crow laws and discrimination. She focused on social and political issues affecting African Americans in Los Angeles and nationwide. The California Eagle stood at the forefront of breaking news and pivotal journalism on behalf of the Black community throughout Los Angeles until its final issue date in 1964.
The California Eagle left an indelible mark on American history. Its longevity and the content published within its pages were instrumental in changing the perception and treatment of Black Americans.
In the early days of the newspaper, it served as a primary platform to fight against the discrimination of African Americans during a time when racial segregation and discrimination were rampant. The newspaper advocated for better living conditions, equal access to education, and voting rights. In addition, The California Eagle was vital in promoting the works of notable African Americans such as Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, and many other Black cultural, political, and business leaders. The California Eagle reported on the remarkable achievements of African Americans, such as the Harlem Renaissance’s rise, Black athletes’ history, and the strong resistance against discrimination, leading to many changes within U.S. society. In 1948, Ms. Bass introduced a groundbreaking column, “What’s On Your Mind,” which allowed readers to voice their opinions and concerns about pressing issues. This column became popular as it became a platform for the Black community to speak out and have their voices heard.
In 1951, Ms. Bass sold The California Eagle and moved to New York City, where she focused her efforts on progressive party politics. The following year, she made history by becoming the first African American woman nominated for vice president on the national Progressive Party’s ticket, alongside California attorney Vincent Hallinan. Their campaign promoted equality, civil rights, good jobs, and world peace. Despite their efforts, Dwight D. Eisenhower eventually won the 1952 election.
Following the election loss, Ms. Bass retired to Elsinore, California. She remained active in the community by delivering speeches to local organizations and operating a library and voter registration center out of her garage. In 1960, she published her book, Forty Years: Memories from a Newspaper. In 1966, Ms. Bass suffered a stroke and passed away in 1969.
The California Eagle left an indelible mark on American history. Its longevity and the content published within its pages were instrumental in changing the perception and treatment of Black Americans. African American-owned newspapers continue to inspire generations for the cause of racial equality, justice, and a united society. When it comes to telling our stories, The California Eagle and other African American publications that have joined the narrative have played an essential role in how our underserved communities have navigated vital issues from the civil rights movement, police brutality, mass incarceration, voter suppression, racial inequality in public education, lack of access to healthcare and beyond.
For this reason, we must honor the legacy of Ms. Charlotta Bass and the California Eagle by supporting present-day local newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals published by and for our storytellers who continue to commit themselves to being champions for our communities.