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ONLINE—UNLADYLIKE2020: Charlotta Spears Bass—Newspaper Editor, Civil Rights Crusader and First African American Woman to Run for Vice President

August 25, 2020August 26, 2020


Charlotta Spears Bass, first African American woman to run for Vice President. Original artwork by Amelie Chabannes.

Releasing weekly on the American Masters and UNLADYLIKE2020 websites starting in March, Unladylike2020 is a multimedia series consisting of a one-hour special for broadcast and 26 digital short films featuring courageous, little-known and diverse female trailblazers from the turn of the 20th century. These women achieved many firsts, including earning an international pilot’s license, becoming a bank president, founding a hospital, fighting for the desegregation of public spaces, exploring the Arctic, opening a film studio, and singing opera at Carnegie Hall. Presenting history in a bold new way, American Masters — Unladylike2020, produced and directed by Charlotte Mangin, brings these incredible stories back to life through original artwork and animation, rare historical archival footage, and interviews with descendants, historians and accomplished modern women who reflect upon the influence of these pioneers.

On August 26, watch the story of Charlotta Spears Bass (1874–1969), a crusading newspaper editor and politician, who was one of the first African American women to own and operate a newspaper in the United States. She followed in the tradition of ‘muckraking’ or reform-minded journalism, publishing the California Eagle in Los Angeles from 1912 until 1951, at a time when newsrooms were male-dominated and few white journalists focused on issues of importance to African Americans. The California Eagle, one of the first African American newspapers in California, with the largest circulation of any black paper on the West Coast, addressed social and political issues such as racial violence, and discrimination in schools, housing, and the job market. Later in her career, Bass entered electoral politics and was the first African American woman to run for Vice President of the United States in 1952, on the Progressive Party ticket. Interviewees: historian Susan D. Anderson, director of Library, Collections, Exhibitions, and Programs at the California Historical Society; political columnist, news anchor, and television commentator Amy Holmes, co-host of PBS’s talk show In Principle, which examines how history, faith and culture influence US politics.

A vast interactive website features the stories of over 100 diverse and extraordinary women from the turn of the 20th century who broke barriers and achieved tremendous professional heights.

Read on for more about this project, and PBS’ summer-long celebration of female trailblazers here.

UNLADYLIKE 2020 is supported by California Humanities through a California Documentary Project grant.