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PRESIDENT'S LETTER

 

#MeToo: Charlotta Spears Bass

History repeats itself, so they say. Perhaps I should not have been surprised, then, when in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein and other sexual harassment allegations, I had a déjà vu moment at the LA Central Library. I was reading the memoir of Charlotta Spears Bass (1874-1969), the editor of one of the nation’s oldest African-American newspapers.

Bass came to Los Angeles during the first decade of the 20th century. She found employment in selling subscriptions to TheEagle. The newspaper’s editor, John James Neimore, established the paper in 1895. In 1912, Neimore, a workaholic, took ill and—on his deathbed—implored Charlotta to run the paper in his absence. She reluctantly promised to do so, and renamed it The California Eagle.

In her memoir, Charlotta recounts how she found the paper in financial distress, beholden monetarily to an architect who owned the building and part of the business. Shortly after Neimore’s passing, Charlotta received a visit from this architect, who surmised she must be “the girl” now running the paper. The architect agreed to let her remain in place—with the condition that she also become his “girlfriend” and live in an apartment he would set up for her.

Charlotta refused. Within days, she was served with an eviction notice and word that the paper would be sold at auction.

Fortunately, a community member stepped up and purchased the newspaper, agreeing that Charlotta could pay him back over time. She remained publisher for more than 40 years, until 1951 when she ran for vice president of the United States on the Progressive Party ticket.

Charlotta’s account of her interaction with what was undoubtedly a Caucasian architect is factual and detached—befitting her decades of experience as a journalist. She does not name her harasser. Her willingness to stand up to a man in any position of power is inspirational more than 100 years later.

And so as we welcome 2018, I encourage us all to learn the lessons of history. Let the lives of others inspire us all to look to the past as guidance for navigating the uncharted waters of tomorrow.

Sian Winship

 
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