Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced last week that his running mate will be former presidential candidate Kamala Harris. Most Democrats across the country were thrilled when they heard the news, and praised Biden for his pick. To add to that, many media outlets deemed Harris as the first-ever Black female VP nominee, which isn’t exactly true. Half a century before Kamala Harris, there was Charlotta Bass, the actual first Black woman to run for Vice President of the United States.
Although her chances were very slim, she persisted and she paved the political campaign trail for others to walk on it.
Charlotta Bass ran under the Progressive Party ticket back in 1952, and she stated on a Chicago stage that she was the first Black woman candidate for Vice President.
“I stand before you with great pride. This is a historic moment in American political life. 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 N***o woman for the second-highest office in the land.”
Although the chances of her becoming the first Black woman VP were very unlikely, she set a precedent for Black women across the country.
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There is much chatter about Kamala Harris being selected as Biden’s VP candidate. And, as many of you celebrate, please don’t forget that before Kamala and even before the great Shirley Chisholm there was Charlotta Bass. History wants us to remember Charlotta Bass as the first African American woman to own a newspaper (California Eagle) that successfully operated for 40 years (1912-1952) and vigilantly covered all civil rights issues of her time. This was most definitely a major contribution to laying the foundation of many major movements (one in which I looked to to build my foundation in the fight), but she was also the FIRST BLACK WOMAN TO RUN FOR VP. She was on the ticket for the Progressive Party—10 years before the Voting Rights Act was even put into law. That’s HUGE! Know history. Don’t leave her out of the narrative. Charlotta Bass 1952 Acceptance Speech Excerpt: “I am stirred by the responsibility that you have put upon me. I am proud that I am the choice of the leaders of my own people and leaders of all those who understand how deeply the fight for peace is one and indivisible with the fight for Negro equality. And I am impelled to accept this call, for it is the call of all my people and call to my people. Frederick Douglass would rejoice, for he fought not only slavery but the oppression of women. Above all, Douglass would counsel us not to falter, to “continue the struggle while a bondsman in his chains remains to weep.” For Douglass had that calm resolution which led fast while others waivered… I make this pledge to my people, the dead and the living—to all Americans, black and white. I will not retire nor will I retreat, not one inch, so long as God gives me vision to see what is happening and strength to fight for the things I know are right. For I know that my kingdom, my peoples of all the world, is not beyond the skies, the moon and the stars, but right here at our feet—acres of diamonds—freedom—peace and justice—for all the peoples if we will but stoop down and get them.”
Bass is also the first African American woman to own a newspaper, California Eagle, and it successfully operated for 40 years, from 1912 up until 1952. It covered all civil rights issues of the time, and it was a major contribution to the foundation of many major movements.
Her campaign slogan was “Win or lose, we win by raising the issues”, and it stood by it. Her party eventually lost the elections of that cycle to Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower, but her campaign will always be remembered as a historic moment for Black women across the country.
Charlotta Bass was the first black woman to run for national office as the V.P. candidate for the Progressive Party. She campaigned with the slogan: “Win or lose, we win by raising the issues.”
— Smithsonian NMAAHC (@NMAAHC) August 12, 2020
Charlotta Bass was also the founder of the National Sojourner for Truth and Justice Club, which helped improve working conditions in workplaces for Black women. Keisha N. Blain, associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, said that Bass’s life and legacy should be a lesson for Harris, and her 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 craft a successful political coalition with Biden.