Overlooked No More: Before Kamala Harris, There Was Charlotta Bass

In today’s terms, many of Bass’s beliefs — civil rights, organized labor, redirecting military budgets to social needs, universal health care — might have been labeled Democratic socialism, said Anne Rapp, a historian who wrote her doctoral dissertation on Bass.But in that era, they were radical — and Bass became the subject of government surveillance that would continue until her death.“Her F.B.I. file is several reams thick,” said Toni Spears Scott, a great-great-niece.Bass’s status as “disloyal” prompted the California N.A.A.C.P. to tear up her membership card, and Iota Phi Lambda, a Black sorority, to revoke her honorary membership.Her international travel was restricted, and C.I.A. agents followed her to conferences overseas.“When I was growing up, our family really only mentioned her in whispers,” Scott said..Bass sold The Eagle in 1951 and co-founded Sojourners for Truth and Justice, a Black women’s group.The next year, she and Hallinan launched their White House bid on a platform of “peace and prosperity.”Hallinan was best known for his defense of Harry Bridges, a union leader who was convicted of perjury for denying being a Communist — a verdict later overturned by the Supreme Court. In the process, Hallinan was sentenced to six months in jail for contempt of court, which is where he was when the 1952 campaign began.And so Bass campaigned alone, speaking at a Baptist Church in New York and to autoworkers in Detroit. When, during a news conference in Baltimore, a member of her party told a reporter that “we don’t expect to win,” she threw her a glance.

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