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Before Kamala Harris made history, there was Charlotta Bass



As a candidate for the country’s second highest office under the ticket to the Progressive Party in 1952, she addressed conference participants on March 30 of that year.

“I stand before you with great pride,” she said. “This is a historic moment in American political life. Historical for myself, for my people, for all women. For the first time in this nation, history, a political party has elected a Negro woman to the second highest office in the country.”
In a nod to her minimal chance of winning, her campaign slogan was: “Win or lose, we win by raising issues.” Her party lost to Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower, but her campaign decades ago helped open doors for minority candidates today, according to experts.

“Bass certainly paved the way for Kamalas today, both in terms of her identity and her policy of building coalitions,”

; said Keisha N. Blain, associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh and author of “Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the global struggle for freedom. “

“But it is just as important to talk about the countless black women whose work has formed the backbone of the Democratic Party.”

Charlotta A. Bass was a candidate for the 1952 Vice Presidential Progressive Party.

Bass made history before she drove as VP

Bass began making history long before she ran for office. The activist-turned-politician was born in South Carolina in 1874. She later moved to the West Coast, where she became one of the first African-American women to own and operate a newspaper – the California Eagle.

Her fight against injustice began decades before her political bid. She used her newspaper as a platform to highlight topics such as police brutality, restrictive housing, the Ku Klax Klan and civil liberties.

She was such an important advocate for civil liberties, women’s rights and immigration, she received death threats. The FBI also placed her under surveillance after she was branded a communist, government statements show.

When Bass’ husband died in 1934, she set up her activism by joining groups fighting for injustice. She also founded the National Sojourner for the Truth and Justice Club, which worked to improve working conditions for black women.

“Throughout his career, Bass evolved and worked with different political groups, capturing the richness and complexity of black politics,” Blain said.

She served as president of a chapter of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, engaged to the more moderate NAACP, and was a leader among leftists and communists in the Sojourners for Truth and Justice, she added.

“Bass’ ability to move within radical and more mainstream circles – and her ability to draw significant insight from each – is an important lesson for Harris as she strives to form a successful political coalition with Biden,” Blain said.

While Bass was a key figure in politics, Blain said, equally important are Charlene Mitchell, Shirley Chisholm and countless other black women who have worked – often behind the scenes – to make minorities in politics mainstream.

Vincent Hallinan (left) Progressive candidate for president, Charlotta Bass and Paul Robeson.

“Mitchell ran as president on the ticket to the Communist Party in 1968, and Chisholm campaigned in the Democratic presidential primary in 1972. These women paved the way for Harris and other black women in presidential politics,” she said.

The Progress Party’s candidate for president was Vincent Hallinan, a lawyer who ran for office from the backbenchers after being jailed for six months on contempt charges.
Denise Lynn, a history professor at the University of Southern Indiana, said the progressive party was against the United States serving as a global police force, especially in the former colonies where the majority of people were not white.
“The Progressive Party ran … on a platform that opposed militarism, war and political competition with the Soviet Union in favor of social justice, economic equality and peace. Bass was instrumental in getting the Progressive Party to get a vote in California, “Lynn wrote in a piece published this year.

Hallinan received 140,000 votes.


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