Category Archives: freedom of the press

Jacob Riis, Investigative Reporter

 

 

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Jacob Riis, 1849 — 1914, came to the United States as an immigrant at age 21. He became an investigative journalist, looking at social conditions. Here is an excerpt from his most famous work, How The Other Half Lives, 1890.

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It is estimated that at least one hundred and fifty thousand women and girls earn their own living in New York; but there is reason to believe that this estimate falls far short of the truth when sufficient account is taken of the large number who are not wholly dependent upon their own labor, while contributing by it to the family’s earnings. These alone constitute a large class of the women wage-earners, and it is characteristic of the situation that the very fact that some need not starve on their wages condemns the rest to that fate. The pay they are willing to accept all have to take. What the “everlasting law of supply and demand,” that serves as such a convenient gag for public indignation, has to do with it, one learns from observation all along the road of inquiry into these real woman’s wrongs. To take the case of the sales-women for illustration: The investigation of the Working Women’s Society disclosed the fact that wages averaging from $2 to $4.50 a week were reduced by excessive fines, “the employers placing a value upon time lost that is not given to services rendered.” A little girl, who received two dollars a week, made cash-sales amounting to $167 in a single day, while the receipts of a fifteen-dollar male clerk in the same department footed up only $125; yet for some trivial mistake the girl was fined sixty cents out of her two dollars. The practice prevailed in some stores of dividing the fines between the superintendent and the time-keeper at the end of the year. In one instance they amounted to $3,000, and “the superintendent was heard to charge the time-keeper with not being strict enough in his duties.” One of the causes for fine in a certain large store was sitting down. The law requiring seats for saleswomen, generally ignored, was obeyed faithfully in this establishment. The seats were there, but the girls were fined when found using them.
Cash-girls receiving $1.75 a week for work that at certain seasons lengthened their day to sixteen hours were sometimes required to pay for their aprons. A common cause for discharge from stores in which, on account of the oppressive heat and lack of ventilation, “girls fainted day after day and came out looking like corpses,” was too long service. No other fault was found with the discharged saleswomen than that they had been long enough in the employ of the firm to justly expect an increase of salary. The reason was even given with brutal frankness, in some instances.
These facts give a slight idea of the hardships and the poor pay of a business that notoriously absorbs child-labor. The girls are sent to the store before they have fairly entered their teens, because the money they can earn there is needed for the support of the family. If the boys will not work, if the street tempts them from home, among the girls at least there must be no drones. To keep their places they are told to lie about their age and to say that they are over fourteen. The precaution is usually superfluous. The Women’s Investigating Committee found the majority of the children employed in the stores to be under age, but heard only in a single instance of the truant officers calling. In that case they came once a year and sent the youngest children home; but in a month’s time they were all back in their places, and were not again disturbed. When it comes to the factories, where hard bodily labor is added to long hours, stifling rooms, and starvation wages, matters are even worse. The Legislature has passed laws to prevent the employment of children, as it has forbidden saloon-keepers to sell them beer, and it has provided means of enforcing its mandate, so efficient, that the very number of factories in New York is guessed at as in the neighborhood of twelve thousand. Up till this summer, a single inspector was charged with the duty of keeping the run of them all, and of seeing to it that the law was respected by the owners.
Sixty cents is put as the average day’s earnings of the 150,000, but into this computation enters the stylish “cashier’s” two dollars a day, as well as the thirty cents of the poor little girl who pulls threads in an East Side factory, and, if anything, the average is probably too high. Such as it is, however, it represents board, rent, clothing, and “pleasure” to this army of workers. Here is the case of a woman employed in the manufacturing department of a Broadway house. It stands for a hundred like her own. She averages three dollars a week. Pays $1.50 for her room; for breakfast she has a cup of coffee; lunch she cannot afford. One meal a day is her allowance. This woman is young, she is pretty. She has “the world before her.” Is it anything less than a miracle if she is guilty of nothing worse than the “early and improvident marriage,” against which moralists exclaim as one of the prolific causes of the distress of the poor? Almost any door might seem to offer welcome escape from such slavery as this. “I feel so much healthier since I got three square meals a day,” said a lodger in one of the Girls’ Homes. Two young sewing-girls came in seeking domestic service, so that they might get enough to eat. They had been only half-fed for some time, and starvation had driven them to the one door at which the pride of the American-born girl will not permit her to knock, though poverty be the price of her independence.

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The tenement and the competition of public institutions and farmers’ wives and daughters, have done the tyrant shirt to death, but they have not bettered the lot of the needle-women. The sweater of the East Side has appropriated the flannel shirt. He turns them out to-day at forty-five cents a dozen, paying his Jewish workers from twenty to thirty-five cents. One of these testified before the State Board of Arbitration, during the shirtmakers’ strike, that she worked eleven hours in the shop and four at home, and had never in the best of times made over six dollars a week. Another stated that she worked from 4 o’clock in the morning to 11 at night. These girls had to find their own thread and pay for their own machines out of their wages. The white shirt has gone to the public and private institutions that shelter large numbers of young girls, and to the country. There are not half as many shirtmakers in New York to-day as only a few years ago, and some of the largest firms have closed their city shops. The same is true of the manufacturers of underwear. One large Broadway firm has nearly all its work done by farmers’ girls in Maine, who think themselves well off if they can earn two or three dollars a week to pay for a Sunday silk, or the wedding outfit, little dreaming of the part they are playing in starving their city sisters. Literally, they sew “with double thread, a shroud as well as a shirt.” Their pin-money sets the rate of wages for thousands of poor sewing-girls in New York. The average earnings of the worker on underwear to-day do not exceed the three dollars which her competitor among the Eastern hills is willing to accept as the price of her play. The shirtmaker’s pay is better only because the very finest custom work is all there is left for her to do.
Calico wrappers at a dollar and a half a dozen—the very expert sewers able to make from eight to ten, the common run five or six—neckties at from 25 to 75 cents a dozen, with a dozen as a good day’s work, are specimens of women’s wages. And yet people persist in wondering at the poor quality of work done in the tenements! Italian cheap labor has come of late also to possess this poor field, with the sweater in its train. There is scarce a branch of woman’s work outside of the home in which wages, long since at low-water mark, have not fallen to the point of actual starvation. A case was brought to my notice recently by a woman doctor, whose heart as well as her life-work is with the poor, of a widow with two little children she found at work in an East Side attic, making paper-bags. Her father, she told the doctor, had made good wages at it; but she received only five cents for six hundred of the little three-cornered bags, and her fingers had to be very swift and handle the paste-brush very deftly to bring her earnings up to twenty-five and thirty cents a day. She paid four dollars a month for her room. The rest went to buy food for herself and the children. The physician’s purse, rather than her skill, had healing for their complaint.
I have aimed to set down a few dry facts merely. They carry their own comment. Back of the shop with its weary, grinding toil—the home in the tenement, of which it was said in a report of the State Labor Bureau: “Decency and womanly reserve cannot be maintained there—what wonder so many fall away from virtue?” Of the outlook, what? Last Christmas Eve my business took me to an obscure street among the West Side tenements. An old woman had just fallen on the doorstep, stricken with paralysis. The doctor said she would never again move her right hand or foot. The whole side was dead. By her bedside, in their cheerless room, sat the patient’s aged sister, a hopeless cripple, in dumb despair. Forty years ago the sisters had come, five in number then, with their mother, from the North of Ireland to make their home and earn a living among strangers. They were lace embroiderers and found work easily at good wages. All the rest had died as the years went by. The two remained and, firmly resolved to lead an honest life, worked on though wages fell and fell as age and toil stiffened their once nimble fingers and dimmed their sight. Then one of them dropped out, her hands palsied and her courage gone. Still the other toiled on, resting neither by night nor by day, that the sister might not want. Now that she too had been stricken, as she was going to the store for the work that was to keep them through the holidays, the battle was over at last. There was before them starvation, or the poor-house. And the proud spirits of the sisters, helpless now, quailed at the outlook.
These were old, with life behind them. For them nothing was left but to sit in the shadow and wait. But of the thousands, who are travelling the road they trod to the end, with the hot blood of youth in their veins, with the love of life and of the beautiful world to which not even sixty cents a day can shut their eyes—who is to blame if their feet find the paths of shame that are “always open to them?” The very paths that have effaced the saving “limit,” and to which it is declared to be “inevitable that they must in many instances resort.” Let the moralist answer. Let the wise economist apply his rule of supply and demand, and let the answer be heard in this city of a thousand charities where justice goes begging.
To the everlasting credit of New York’s working-girl let it be said that, rough though her road be, all but hopeless her battle with life, only in the rarest instances does she go astray. As a class she is brave, virtuous, and true. New York’s army of profligate women is not, as in some foreign cities, recruited from her ranks. She is as plucky as she is proud. That “American girls never whimper” became a proverb long ago, and she accepts her lot uncomplainingly, doing the best she can and holding her cherished independence cheap at the cost of a meal, or of half her daily ration, if need be. The home in the tenement and the traditions of her childhood have neither trained her to luxury nor predisposed her in favor of domestic labor in preference to the shop. So, to the world she presents a cheerful, uncomplaining front that sometimes deceives it. Her courage will not be without its reward. Slowly, as the conviction is thrust upon society that woman’s work must enter more and more into its planning, a better day is dawning. The organization of working girls’ clubs, unions, and societies with a community of interests, despite the obstacles to such a movement, bears testimony to it, as to the devotion of the unselfish women who have made their poorer sisters cause their own, and will yet wring from an unfair were the justice too long denied her.

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Dorothy Day on Freedom of the Press

The Daily Worker Case
Dorothy Day
The Catholic Worker, April 1956.

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During Holy Week, at noon one day, revenue agents suddenly raided the offices of The Daily Worker, Communist paper, evicting its editors, padlocking the doors, saying that this action was because of unpaid taxes. The editors claimed that there were no taxes due and that what the revenue agents wanted was a glimpse at their files, the names of those who were contributing to make up their deficits, and their subscription lists. They have appealed the case to the courts, and protested to the President that this action was an infringement on freedom of the press and so a violation of guaranteed constitutional liberties. It was a sudden gesture, totally unexpected by all those concerned and the result was an immediate protest on the part of radicals, liberals and a number of other Americans including plenty of other daily papers who were not afraid of the stigma of guilt by association and who believe that openness, free discussion of ideas can never harm our way of life, or our Christian ideals. During that great season of Holy Week, which this year began with the feast of the Annunciation (there is no time with God) which celebrates God becoming man, taking upon Himself our weak flesh, becoming like unto us in all things save only sin, all I could think of was that God loved each one of us so particularly that He bore our sins, died for our sins, conquered death, gave us hope. If we believe and hope in Him and I trust are trying to grow in love of Him, we must try to reflect a little of this Christ love and trust and mercy in dealing with our fellows, friend and enemy. At times like this we can’t get much further than seeing our own sins, our own guilt, especially since we as a country seem to be trying to outdo Russia in ways of killing off as many people as possible with guided missiles. One thing which will guarantee a continuance of the arms race is to play up a spirit of fear and such raids as that on The Daily Worker is as much calculated to inspire that fear of ever present menace and danger in our midst among the citizenry in general as it is to outlaw the Communist or make existence difficult for him. (We are not trying to judge the case only as a tax case, and don’t know anything about political parties and their payment of taxes. We are dealing with this matter from the standpoint of the newspaper alone.) dorothyday

The Holy Father in his Easter message says that not to “every appearance of faith is guaranteed the victory,” and that appearance of faith he defines as “the vague sense of Christianity,
flabby and empty, which remains on the outer threshold of conviction in the mind and of love in the heart. It is not set into the whole structure of life whether public or private. . . . true peace is not a state of repose like death, but rather the power and activity of life.” We are taught that it is a sin to keep silent when we should speak out in defense of the right, thus consenting to wrong . . . that God turns even malice and wrong doing to His own ends . . . that we must be ready to uphold truth at whatever cost to ourselves . . . that it is only the truth that can imbue men’s hearts with true freedom. So with all these things in mind we sent the following message to the editors of The Daily Worker: We at the Catholic Worker express our sympathy to The Daily Worker in the eviction they have suffered even though their beliefs are contrary to our own. Freedom of the press is a concept fundamental to Jeffersonians and libertarians and freedom in general is essentially a religious concept. The Smith Act itself shows that our country is so superficially religious that it is not willing to take the risk and consequences of a faith in freedom and man’s use of it. (In a lighter vein), if we only had the space and could be truly charitable and hospitable we would offer the use of our offices and even of our mailing list, since the bureaucrats have confiscated yours, and we are sure that we would risk nothing in such a gesture but achieve a healthful clarification of thought. Yours for a green and peaceful revolution.

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Molly Ivins CAN Say That

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Molly Ivins
JANUARY 4, 2007
The president of the United States does not have the sense God gave a duck — so it’s up to us. You and me, Bubba.

I don’t know why Bush is just standing there like a frozen rabbit, but it’s time we found out. The fact is WE have to do something about it. This country is being torn apart by an evil and unnecessary war, and it has to be stopped NOW.

This war is being prosecuted in our names, with our money, with our blood, against our will. Polls consistently show that less than 30 percent of the people want to maintain current troop levels. It is obscene and wrong for the president to go against the people in this fashion. And it’s doubly wrong for him to send 20,0000 more soldiers into this hellhole, as he reportedly will announce next week.

What happened to the nation that never tortured? The nation that wasn’t supposed to start wars of choice? The nation that respected human rights and life? A nation that from the beginning was against tyranny? Where have we gone? How did we let these people take us there? How did we let them fool us?

It’s a monstrous idea to put people in prison and keep them there. Since 1215, civil authorities have been obligated to tell people with what they are charged if they’re arrested. This administration has done away with rights first enshrined in the Magna Carta nearly 800 years ago, and we’ve, let them do it.

This will be a regular feature of mine, like an old-fashioned newspaper campaign. Every column, I’ll write about this war until we find some way to end it. STOP IT NOW. BAM! Every day, we will review some factor we should have gotten right.

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So let’s take a step back and note, for example, that before the war one of the architects of the entire policy, Paul Wolfowitz, testified to Congress that Iraq had no history of ethnic strife. Sectarian and ethnic strife is a part of the region. And the region is full of examples of Western colonial powers trying to occupy countries, take their resources and take over the administration of their people — and failing.

The sectarian bloodbath we see daily completely refutes Wolfowitz. And now Bush has given him the World Bank to run. Wonder what he’ll do there.

And let’s keep in mind that when the Army arrived in Baghdad, we, the television viewers, watched footage of a bunch of enraged and joyous Iraqis pulling down the statue of Saddam Hussein, their repulsive dictator, in Firdos Square. Only one thing was wrong. The event was staged. Taking down the statue was instigated by a Marine colonel, and a PSYOP (psychological operations) unit made it appear to be a spontaneous show of Iraqi joy.

When we later saw the whole square where the statue was located, only 30 to 40 people were there (U.S. soldiers, press and some Iraqis — and one of several U.S. tanks present pulled the statue down with a cable). We, the television viewers, saw the square being presented as though the people of Iraq had gone into a frenzy, mobbed the square and spontaneously pulled down the statue. Fake images and claims have been a part of this fiasco from the beginning.

We need to cut through all this smoke and mirrors and come up with an exit strategy, forthwith. The Democrats have yet to offer a cohesive plan to get us out of this mess. Of course, it’s not their fault — but the fact is we need leaders who are grown-ups and who are willing to try to fix it. Bush has ignored the actual grown-ups from the Iraq Study Group and the generals and all other experts who are nearly unanimous in the opinion that more troops will not help.

So, like I said, it’s up to you and me, Bubba. We need to make sure that the new Congress curbs executive power, which has been so misused, and asserts its own power to make this situation change. Now.

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A Radical Journalist Such as We Need Now!

Mary Heaton Vorse O’Brien (1874–1966) was an American journalist, labor activist, social critic, and novelist. She was outspoken and active in peace and social justice causes, such as women’s suffrage, civil rights, pacifism (such as opposition to World War I), socialism, child labor, infant mortality, labor disputes, and affordable housing.

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Mary Heaton was born October 11, 1874, in New York City to Ellen Marvin Heaton and Hiram Heaton. She was raised in prosperity in Amherst, Massachusetts, in a 24-room house with half-siblings from her mother’s previous marriage. The money in the family came from her mother’s side. In 1852, Vorse’s mother married Captain Charles Bernard Marvin, a wealthy shipping magnate and liquor merchant, more than 20 years her senior, when she was a young woman of 18. Ellen Marvin was widowed at age 37 with five children. In 1873, she married Mary’s father, who, with his family, operated the Stockbridge Inn. The family traveled widely, spending over a year in Europe, where Mary attended kindergarten in Hanover and the first year of grade school in Dresden, learning the German language in the process. Later, the family had an apartment in Paris, where Mary learned French, followed later by a winter in Austria.

In her 1935 memoir, she dated her interest in the problems of politics and economics to the years of her youth, when her mother read to her aloud from a book by ethnographer George Kennan on the brutal Siberian penal system of Russia. An interest in classic Russian literature followed, complemented by directed reading with her father on topics of American history. She found her intellect stimulated by life in the college town of Amherst and discussions held in the family home between her father and several prominent friends from academia, including the president of Massachusetts Agricultural College, Henry Hill Goodell, and anthropology professor John Tyler.

She was allowed to leave the formal school system at a young age and subsequently spent several winters in Paris studying art. In 1896, Heaton began to study at the Art Students’ League, on West 57th Street in New York City. The League was established 20 years earlier by strong-minded young men in rebellion from the conservative nature of the instruction at the National Academy of Design. By the time that Mary entered, the school was booming, with over 1100 pupils studying in sex-segregated day and evening classes, studying sketch art, sculpture, and painting. While Mary found participation in the artistic avant-garde exhilarating, she unfortunately had rather mediocre talent. She wrote in her diary: “When I come into my room and see my work lying around, my sense of my own futility overwhelms me. After so much work, that is all I can do.”

She was young, intelligent, and athletic and was deeply influenced by the ideas of feminism that had begun to emerge as the 19th century came to a close. Many upper-class women such as Mary were in the forefront of the movement for women’s rights to economic independence, education, voting rights, and birth control.

Her first husband was Albert White “Bert” Vorse, a widely traveled journalist who had worked for a year in a Boston settlement house, run by Edward Everett Hale. They were married on October 26, 1898 after a brief courtship and had two children: a boy, Heaton, born in 1901 and a girl, Mary, born in 1907.

The couple began to take an increased interest in social problems of the day, spurred by the muckraking reformist politics of the day and a personal friendship with radical journalist Lincoln Steffens. The Vorses would frequently go sailing with Steffens and his wife on the Vorses’ boat, where they would be regaled with Steffens’s “epic stories” of “gigantic lootings and skullduggeries” by wealthy bankers and industrialists.

Bert was soon assigned to Paris as the correspondent of the Philadelphia Ledger. It was in France that Mary, encouraged and instructed by her husband, began to try her own hand at professional writing. She began to create and sell romantic fiction to women’s magazines. Her stories often featured the motif of a rugged and energetic heroine who managed to win the affection of a coveted male over a more constrained and conventionally feminine rival. In 1904, the Vorses moved to Venice, where Mary was first introduced into the world of the working class and their labor struggles. Bert died on June 14, 1910, of a cerebral hemorrhage.

In 1912, she married the journalist Joe O’Brien, a socialist from Virginia whom she met at the 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike.

sept 1912_Lawrence_Textile_Strike_2Poster of the Lawrence, Massachusetts, strike

The couple had one child, a boy born in 1914 Joe O’Brien died in 1915.

Vorse was active in the fight against militarism and American entry into World War I and was a founding member, along with Jane Addams, of the Woman’s Peace Party in January 1915. She was chosen as the delegate of the New York Woman Suffrage Party to an International Women’s Peace Congress held in The Hague at the end of April 1915, traveling aboard the MS Noordam through mine-strewn waters to attend.

She wrote for the New York Post, New York World, McCall’s, Harper’s Weekly, Atlantic Monthly, The Masses, New Masses, New Republic, and McClure’s Magazine as well as various news services.

She participated in and reported on the Lawrence Textile Strike, the miners’ strike in Minnesota in 1916, the steel strike of 1919, the textile workers strike of 1934, autoworkers in Michigan in 1937,  and coal strikes in Harlan County, Kentucky. She was wounded by police gunfire while reporting on a strike in Youngstown, Ohio. She researched and wrote about Indian affairs in the mid-1930s and reported on post-war Europe from 1945 to 1947 for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration

Four years before her death in 1966, the 88-year-old Vorse entered the silver jubilee banquet of the United Auto Workers, accompanied by union leader Walter Reuther. There, she received the first UAW Social Justice Award, with former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and novelist Upton Sinclair looking on to share her honor. Vorse  was feted for her work as one of the most important labor journalists of the 1920s and 1930s.

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Vorse died of a heart attack on June 14, 1966, at her home in Provincetown, Massachusetts, on the extreme tip of Cape Cod, where she was buried.[28] She was 92 years old.

In addition to her memoir written in 1935, Vorse participated in an oral history project at Columbia University in 1957, an interview that was transcribed and microfilmed by the university.

Vorse also wrote several ghost stories, including “The Second Wife” (1912). The stories were later collected in the Ash-Tree Press volume “Sinister Romance : Collected Ghost Stories.” Her friend Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker, said Vorse  continued writing in order to aid her children and their children.

 

Charlotta Spears Bass: More History of American Journalism

 

800px-Portrait_of_Charlotta_Bass,_Providence_(_),_ca._1901-1910_(scl-mss064-0451_1)_retouchedCharlotta Amanda Spears Bass (February 14, 1874 – April 12, 1969) was an American educator, newspaper publisher-editor, and civil rights activist. Bass was probably the first African-American woman to own and operate a newspaper in the United States; she published the California Eagle from 1912 until 1951. In 1952, Bass became the first African-American woman nominated for Vice President, as a candidate of the Progressive Party.

Charlotta Amanda Spears Bass was born in Sumter, South Carolina, on February 14, 1874, to Hiram and Kate Spears. She was the sixth child of eleven. When she was twenty years old, she moved to live with her brother in Providence, Rhode Island, where she worked for the Providence Watchman. Spears worked for the Providence Watchman for about ten years.

She moved to California for her health and ended up working at the California Eagle. In 1912, a new editor Joseph Bass joined the Eagle. Bass had been one of the founders of the Topeka Plaindealer. He shared his concern with Spears about the injustice and racial discrimination in society. Charlotta Spears married Joseph Bass, and they ran the Eagle together. She had no children.

Charlotta Bass lived in the 52nd Place Historic District during the 1930s.
The Eagle developed a large black readership. By 1925, the Eagle employed a staff of twelve and published twenty pages a week. The Eagle’s circulation of 60,000 made it the largest African-American newspaper on the West Coast.[4]

When the editor John J. Neimore become ill, he turned the operations of the Eagle over to Spears. After Neimore’s death, the paper’s new owner put Spears in charge. She renamed the newspaper company to the California Eagle due to increasing social and political issues. Her purpose for the California Eagle was to write about the wrongs of society. The newspaper served as a source of both information and inspiration for the black community, which was often ignored or negatively portrayed by the predominant white press.[5] 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 published the California Eagle from 1912 until 1951. Bass and her husband combated such issues as the derogatory images in D. W. Griffith’s film, The Birth of a Nation; Los Angeles’ discriminatory hiring practices; the revival of the Ku Klux Klan; police brutality; and restrictive housing covenants. The Basses powerfully championed the black soldiers of the Twenty-Fourth Infantry who were unjustly sentenced in the 1917 Houston race riot. In 1925, the KKK sued the paper for libel. In court, The Eagle won. They also covered the case and supported the “Scottsboro boy,” nine young men who were framed and convicted of rape in Scottsboro, Alabama, in 1931. In 1934, Joseph Bass died. Charlotta Bass continued to run the California Eagle on her own. In the 1940s, Bass’s newspaper pioneered multiethnic politics, advocating Asian-American and Mexican-American civil rights.

Bass retired from the newspaper business in 1951. Her later years were devoted to politics. During the 1920s, Bass became co-president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, founded by Marcus Garvey. Bass formed the Home Protective Association to defeat housing covenants in all-white neighborhoods. She helped found the Industrial Business Council, which fought discrimination in employment practices and encouraged black people to go into business. As editor and publisher of the California Eagle, the oldest black newspaper on the West Coast, Charlotta Bass fought against restrictive covenants in housing and segregated schools in Los Angeles. She campaigned to end job discrimination at the Los Angeles General Hospital, the Los Angeles Rapid Transit Company, the Southern Telephone Company, and the Boulder Canyon Project.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, she continued to encourage black businesses with the campaign known as “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work”.

As a leader of both the NAACP and the UNIA, Bass spanned the divide between integrationist and separatist black politics. She was the director of the Youth Movement of the NAACP. It had 200 members, including some actors and actresses, such as Lena Horne, Hattie McDaniel, and Louise Beavers.

In the 1940s, the Republican Party chose Bass as western regional director for Wendell Willkie’s presidential campaign. Three years later, she became the first African-American grand jury member for the Los Angeles County Court. Also in 1943, Bass led a group of black leaders to the office of the Mayor of Los Angeles, Fletcher Bowron’s office. They demanded an expansion of the Mayor’s Committee on American Unity, more public mass meetings to promote interracial unity, and an end to the discriminatory hiring practices of the privately owned Los Angeles Railway Company. The mayor listened, but agreed to do no more than to expand his committee. Then later in the 1940s, Bass left the Republican Party and joined the Progressive Party because she believed neither of the major parties was committed to civil rights.

Bass served in 1952 as the National Chairman of the Sojourners for Truth and Justice, an organization of black women set up to protest racial violence in the South. That year, she was nominated for vice president of the United States by the Progressive Party. She was the running mate of lawyer Vincent Hallinan. Bass became the first African-American woman to run for vice president of the United States. Her platform called for civil rights, women’s rights, an end to the Korean War, and peace with the Soviet Union. Bass’s slogan during the vice presidential campaign was, “Win or lose, we win by raising the issues.”

Bass worked on issues that also attracted Luisa Moreno, who was active in Afro-Chicano politics in Los Angeles during the 1930s-1950. No record shows that the two women ever met, but in 1943 both served on the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee, a multiracial group that fought for the release of several Chicanos convicted of murder by an all-white jury making Bass and Moreno part of the same “constellation” of struggle.[15]

Bass wrote her last column for the California Eagle on April 26, 1951, and sold the paper soon after. Considering the sum of her career as she was completing her autobiography, Forty Years (1960), Bass wrote:

“It has been a good life that I have had, through a very hard one, but I know the future will be even better, And as I think back I know that is the only kind of life: In serving one’s fellow man one serves himself best”

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During her years of retirement, she maintained a library in her garage for the young people in her neighborhood. It was a continuation of her long fight to give all people opportunities and education. She died in Los Angeles on April 12, 1969 from a cerebral hemorrhage. She is buried alongside her husband in Evergreen Cemetery, East Los Angeles, California.