It's Friday, Aug. 14, 2020, the day of the week when I reprise an instructive or inspirational quotation. Today's comes from the first American woman of color chosen as a political party's vice presidential nominee.
Not Kamala Harris -- remember, this is a history-themed column. I'm referring to Charlotta Spears Bass, who accepted the No. 2 slot on the Progressive Party ticket in 1952. She didn't win, obviously, as that year's election was won in a landslide by Dwight Eisenhower and his running mate Richard Nixon. The Progressives' ticket of Vincent Hallinan and Charlotta Bass was kept off the ballot in many states and garnered 141,000 voters out of 61 million cast.
Nonetheless, Charlotta Bass was making history, which she understood better than anyone.
"I stand before you with great pride," she said in her acceptance speech at the Progressives' Chicago convention. "This is a historic moment in American political life. Historic for myself, for my people, for all women."
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Born on Valentine's Day 1874 in South Carolina, Charlotta Amanda Spears moved to Rhode Island as a young woman where she worked for her brother's newspaper, the Providence Watchman. In 1910, she left for Los Angeles where she worked on another black-owned newspaper, The Eagle, which was soon turned over to her by its ailing owner. Charlotta brought veteran African American editor and organizer Joseph Blackburn Bass down from San Francisco to edit it. She married Bass, took his surname, renamed the paper The California Eagle, and spent the next four decades in pursuit of social justice.
"For 40 years I have been a working editor and publisher of the oldest Negro newspaper in the West," she told her fellow Progressives in 1952. "During those 40 years I stood on a watchtower, watching the tide of racial hatred and bigotry rising against my people and against all people who believe the Constitution is something more than a piece of yellowed paper to be shut off in a glass case in the archives, but a living document, a working instrument for freedom."
Like many blacks of her generation, Bass had been a loyal Republican; she'd helped run the West Coast get-out-the-vote efforts for Thomas Dewey in 1944. But in 1948, Henry A. Wallace, who'd served as the second of Franklin Roosevelt's three vice presidents, abandoned the Democratic Party to launch a re-imagined Progressive Party. Heeding Wallace's call, Bass left the Republican Party to join the new movement.
She was 78 years old in the summer of 1952 -- the same age Joe Biden will be in November -- a time in life when most people are reminiscing about their careers, not launching new chapters. Bass addressed this point directly in her speech, recalling the joy she felt at joining a truly integrated political party.
"Now perhaps I could retire," she said. "I had helped to found a home for my people. I looked forward to a rest after 40 years of struggle. But how could I retire, and where could I retire, as long as I saw what Frederick Douglass saw and felt what he did -- the need to stand up for the downtrodden, to open my mouth for the dumb, to remember those in bonds as bound with me."
And that's your quote of the week.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.