Harris is not the first Black woman to run for Vice President. In 1952, activist turned politician Bass ran for the role despite her slim chances.
When Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced his running mate pick, most Democrats were thrilled to know that they would be able to vote for former presidential candidate Kamala Harris on the same ticket. Biden's nomination has been highly praised; Harris, of course, represents modern America—she is the manifestation of our country's melting pot of cultures, a symbol of what could be if we enacted progressive immigration policies, and an icon of positive change. However, half a century before her, there was Charlotta Bass, the first Black woman to run for Vice President. Her chances were slim, but she braved the political campaign trail anyway; she persisted.
Bass ran under the Progressive Party ticket in 1952, taking to the stage on March 30 in Chicago to deliver her first address as the first Black woman candidate for Vice President. "I stand before you with great pride," she stated. "This is a historic moment in American political life. Historic for myself, for my people, for all women. For the first time in the history of this nation, a political party has chosen a Negro woman for the second-highest office in the land." Her run was a "long-shot bid," Faith Karimi writing for CNN described. Nonetheless, it set a precedent for Black women across the country. Bass affirmed to others like her that a shot at the role of Vice President run was indeed possible, even if unlikely at the time.
"It has been a good life that I have had, through a very hard one, but I know the future will be even better, And as I think back I know that is the only kind of life: In serving one's fellow man one serves himself best" - Charlotta Bass, 1st African American woman to run for VP pic.twitter.com/2HiQKyrLE2— Women's Museum of California (@WomensMuseum) August 13, 2020
Her campaign slogan, "Win or lose, we win by raising the issues," was crafted in recognition of this truth. Ultimately, her party lost the Presidential elections of that cycle to Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower, but her campaign will forever remain a hallmark of what is possible when Black women break the political glass ceilings of race and gender. Keisha N. Blain, associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom, stated, "Bass certainly paved the way for the Kamalas of today, in terms of both her identity and her politics of coalition-building."
"Win or lose, we win by raising the issues." Charlotta Bass was the first Black woman candidate for VP, running on the Progressive Party ticket in 1952. Countless Black women have worked for a better future for all! Join us and #MobilizeNow for this November! #CiteBlackWomen pic.twitter.com/KPYgNjOaWh— Center for Black Digital Research (@DigBlk) August 16, 2020
"But it is equally important to talk about the countless Black women whose labor has formed the backbone of the Democratic Party," she added. "Too often, we only notice the names at the top of the ticket." Bass, even before she ran for Vice President, began making history as an activist turned politician. Born in South Carolina in 1874, she moved to the West Coast later on in life. There, she was one of the first African American women to own and operate a newspaper, The California Eagle. Through her paper, she highlighted issues such as police brutality, restrictive housing, the Ku Klax Klan, and civil liberties.
Charlotta Bass was the first black woman to run for national office as the V.P. candidate for the Progressive Party. She campaigned with the slogan: "Win or lose, we win by raising the issues."— Smithsonian NMAAHC (@NMAAHC) August 12, 2020
More: https://t.co/lDSoKZig4w #HiddenHerstory #APeoplesJourney #ANationsStory pic.twitter.com/01jKuEwxv7
Further to this, she was the founder of the National Sojourner for Truth and Justice Club, which helped improve working conditions for Black women. As a fierce advocate of civil rights, she was under severe scrutiny: not only did she receive multiple death threats, but she was also placed on an FBI surveillance list, government records show. Blain shared, "Throughout her career, Bass evolved and worked with various political groups, capturing the richness and complexity of Black politics." Bass's life and legacy should be a lesson for Harris, the professor claimed. "Bass's ability to move within radical and more mainstream circles and her ability to draw significant insight from each," she explained, "is an important lesson for Harris as she strives to craft a successful political coalition with Biden."