The FBI agent who had been sitting in his hot, stuffy car all day was deployed to surveil the nursing home across the road. It had been another uneventful day. He noted the comings and goings: deliveries – crates of milk and bags of groceries; the postman; nursing staff in their starched uniforms either arriving or leaving; and, towards early evening, a steady stream of relatives visiting elderly residents. When the agent finished his shift, he drove back to the office and typed up what he determined would be his final entry.

JULY 3, 1967
CHARLOTTA BASS
CASE CLOSED

What possible “security threat” could a bedridden black woman in her nineties pose? Despite being incapacitated by a stroke at ninety-one, Charlotta Bass remained, until 1967 (two years before her death), a target of FBI surveillance and placed on a special Index. She could be arrested “on sight” if deemed in breach of national security. Her 500 plus-page dossier bulged with reports that spanned five decades. It chronicled her denunciations of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK); her elevation as the first black American woman to edit and own a newspaper; her championing of civil rights, political agitation and, most importantly, her 1952 bid to become vice president of the United States.

Thus, it was Charlotta Bass and not Kamala Harris who was the first African American woman to run as Vice President of the United States.

Charlotta Bass and Paul Robeson (1949)

In her acceptance speech as the Democratic Party’s vice presidentialnominee in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, Kamala Harris stated: “That I am here tonight is a testament to the dedication of generations before me. (Women who) without fanfare or recognition… organized, testified, rallied, marched, and fought—not just for their vote, but for a seat at the table…And these women inspired us to pick up the torch, and fight on.Women like Mary Church Terrell and Mary McCleod Bethune. Fannie Lou Hamer and Diane Nash. Constance Baker Motley and Shirley Chisholm.”

There was, however, one notable omission: Charlotta Bass. Despite both women hailing from the same state of California, Bass, a pioneer of the civil rights movement, has remained an obscure figure. Arguably, one explanation was inadvertently alluded to in the remainder of Harris’s speech: “We’re not often taught their stories.”

Charlotta Bass: Before Kamala Harris America’s First Black Female Vice Presidential Candidate chronicles the life, activism and political quest of Charlotta Bass.

about the author

Sonia Grant an independent historian, writer, and author has been researching Charlotta Bass for several years. She has had an article – ‘The Incredible Life of Charlotta Bass’ – published in BBC History Revealed magazine.

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Contact

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