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Portraits of Success

The California Eagle Founded 1879

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When The California Eagle shut down its presses in 1964, it was one of the oldest Black-owned and operated papers in the United States. John James Neimore had established it in Los Angeles as The California Owl in 1879, to ease Black settlers' transition to the West. The paper provided them with housing and job information, and other information essential to surviving in a new environment. The paper evolved into one of the leading papers of the day while under the control of Charlotta A. Bass (nee Spears) and her husband, John Bass. Charlotta Bass assumed control of The Owl following the death of Neimore in 1912, and renamed it The California Eagle.

early california newspaper - Charlotta Bass, left, standing in front of the California Eagle's printing plant with Al Joseph, pressman, center, and Jesus Cano, compositor, right. In 1929, the newspaper moved its printing plant from 814 S. Central Avenue in Los Angeles to the plant shown in the photograph at 1607 E. 103rd Street in Watts. The paper was produced at the Watts' plant from 1929 until 1934.

With the support of her husband--a veteran journalist from Kansas, founder of The Topeka Plaindealer, and newly appointed managing editor of The Eagle--Bass launched a more militant campaign against discrimination and segregation. The newspaper was directed towards political and social issues affecting Black people locally and nationally, and at every opportunity it challenged America to uphold the inalienable rights espoused in the Constitution.             

"The newspaper was directed towards political and social issues affecting Black people locally and nationally, and at every opportunity it challenged America to uphold the inalienable rights espoused in the Constitution."

Two of The Eagle's biggest (and earliest) crusades were against racism in the motion picture industry and the War Department. In 1914 articles and editorials were published in opposition to the making of D. W. Griffith's film "Birth of A Nation" with its derogatory portrayals of African Americans and celebratory depiction of Klu Klux Klan violence. This campaign was joined by other African American newspapers across the nation, and led to the banning of "Birth of A Nation" in some communities. The paper spoke out against injustice in the military during World War I, and again in World War II.

"Two of The Eagle's biggest (and earliest) crusades were against racism in the motion picture industry and the War Department."    After World War I, The California Eagle fought racial discrimination and segregation in Los Angeles and the State of California such as "restrictive covenant" practices. Restrictive covenants were policies or legal guidelines usually embedded (and often hidden) in zoning and real estate regulations which were used to keep new housing tracts and developments racially segregated. The covenants designated restrictions to the use of land or housing, and were used to keep African Americans and other minorities from living or purchasing property in certain neighborhoods.

publisher at work - Charlotta Bass at her desk in the California Eagle offices.
The Eagle also denounced police brutality, and waged successful battles against discriminatory hiring practices at the Southern Telephone Company, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Boulder Dam Company, the Los Angeles General Hospital, and the Los Angeles Rapid Transit Company. In the 1930's, The Eagle joined forces with such papers as The Chicago Defender, The Pittsburgh Courier, The Afro-American, and The Norfolk Journal and Guide, to support nine Black teenagers from Scottsboro, Alabama who were charged with raping two White women aboard a freight car. The case became known as the Scottsboro Case. The Basses also collaborated with Leon Washington of The Los Angeles Sentinel and co-sponsored the "Don't Buy Where You Can't Work" campaign on the West Coast, which dissuaded African Americans from patronizing businesses that had discriminatory hiring practices. This campaign was championed by Black papers on the East Coast as well.

In 1951, Charlotta Bass sold the paper to Loren Miller, an attorney and former Eagle reporter, and in an issue dated April 26, announced her resignation in her personal column, "On The Sidewalk."

In her resignation, she stated "After more than 40 years in which I have tried to serve my people and my country, as a good neighbor, as an editor, and as a fighter for Negro liberation, I feel that I must now take time to regain my health, to learn more about what is happening in the world...and to decide how I can be most useful in the years ahead."

Bass devoted her remaining years to politics. In 1952 she became the first Black woman to run for national office as the Progressive Party's Vice Presidential candidate.

Charlotta Bass In the ensuing years under Loren Miller's stewardship, The Eagle continued to press for the complete integration of African Americans in every sector of society, and to protest all forms of Jim Crow. Among Miller's primary civil rights concerns were housing discrimination, police brutality, and discriminatory hiring practices in the police and fire departments.

In 1964, Miller sold the paper to 14 local investors in order to accept a judgeship, and under the new ownership the paper deteriorated rapidly. The Eagle presses were forced to shut down on July 7, 1964.

Four years later on April 12, 1969, Charlotta Bass died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 95, but not before, as she remarked in her biography Forty Years: Memoirs From the Pages of A Newspaper, "noting the triumphant emergence of the Negro as a top contender for honors in all fields."

The Colored American Founded 1839

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The most important African-American newspaper between 1839-1842 was the Colored American, published from New York City at 9 Spruce Street but circulating in free Black communities up and down the northern seaboard. It was launched in 1836, by Samuel Cornish, Philip Bell, and Charles Bennett Ray. The paper was a weekly, running between four and six pages. Pronouncing its editorial mission as "the moral, social and political elevation of the free colored people; and the peaceful emancipation of the slaves," the Colored American gave prominent coverage to abolitionist activity and to civil rights issues in the north. In the presidential campaign of 1840, it declared in favor of Liberty Party candidate James Birney, though the paper was not a partisan organ.


By 1839, Ray had taken over as the paper's sole owner and editor. Ray was an African-American Massachusetts native who had briefly attended Wesleyan University, worked as a bootmaker in New York City, and been ordained as a minister in 1837. He was a prominent figure in the American Anti-Slavery Society, a "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, and a member of New York's Vigilance Committee. He also supported missionary and temperance causes, as well as educational programs within New York's African American community.

ImageLike other antebellum newspapers, the Colored American employed agents in various cities to drum up subscribers. And it used abolitionist organizations to market itself; in 1837 the executive committee of the American Anti-Slavery Society urged its members to support the paper, and at the organization's next annual meeting lists circulated soliciting subscribers. Even so, the paper frequently teetered on the brink of financial collapse. Its primary readership -- the northern free Black community -- was chronically hard-pressed for cash, though at several crisis points determined fund drives raised critical donations from African-American churches and local abolitionist societies. These efforts, supplemented by occasional cash infusions from prominent White allies, enabled the paper to survive through 1841 (the last issue was published on Christmas day), recording the voice of a small and scattered but vitally active free African-American community.

Alienated American Founded 1853

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Oberlin College Archives - The National Anti-Slavery Standard was the official weekly newspaper of the American Anti-Slavery Society, established in 1840 under the editorship of Lydia Maria Child and David Lee Child. The paper published continuously until the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1870.
A weekly newspaper edited by William Howard Day, Samuel Ringgold Ward, and J.W.C. Pennington, the Alienated American was based in Cleveland, Ohio, in the turbulent 1850s. The paper's objective, according to its editors, "was to aid the educational development of Colored Americans and to assist in enforcing an appreciation of the benefit of trades and to aim at our Social Elevation." Its editors believed that reading good newspapers was an essential part of being a responsible American. They also saw themselves as appealing to readers beyond African Americans, advocating "equal justice before American Law...."

The paper supported integration over segregation and separatism, and declared itself "willing to stand or fall by ... the Constitution of our common country." Its principal editor Day was a graduate of Oberlin College, and the Alienated American functioned as the official newspaper of the Ohio Negro Convention

oberlin, oh - This marble cenotaph located in the city’s memorial park was erected by the citizens of Oberlin in 1860 to remember the Black associates of John Brown who died in the attack on Harpers Ferry. They called the men “citizens of Oberlin and heroic associates of John Brown” who gave their lives for the slave.
Movement. He also used his newspaper to support the organization of Black veterans of the American Revolution and the War of 1812, in which his father fought and died. Day moved to Canada in the late 1850s and actively supported John Brown's movement for the attack on Harpers Ferry in 1859, printing Brown's constitution by hand in Canada. He was in England raising funds for the fugitive slave settlement in Buxton, Ontario, when Brown was captured.

National Reformer Founded 1838

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William Whipper
Founded and edited by William Whipper, one of the wealthiest African Americans of his day, the National Reformer preached moral reform and a broad agenda not limited to the slavery issue. It was the official voice of the American Moral Reform Society (AMRS), an integrated group that Whipper helped to organize in 1835. The National Reformer, which sought the awakening of all Americans to the brotherhood of man, emphasized self-improvement, self-help, racial unity, and civic rights for Blacks. It advocated racial integration, nonviolence, and the equality of women; and it urged Black organizations to disband and merge with White groups.

It appeared 12 times a year in 16-page issues, circulating mostly on the eastern seaboard, with agents in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. Its moral-uplift and integrationist message was not always received well by Blacks interested in Black pride and anti-slavery, and when the AMRS folded in the late 1830s, the paper ended publication. Whipper, who had prospered in the steam-cleaning laundry and lumber business, continued to be active in Black organizations, eventually abandoning his early integrationist and anti-colonization opinions. After the Civil War he moved to Philadelphia and became an officer in the Freedmen's Savings Bank.

The Ram's Horn Founded 1847

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The ram’s Horn - On the Left: Willis Hodges, 1849. On the Right: Ram’s Horn Masthead. 1849. Courtesy of the Negro Newspaper Microfilming Project, Library of Congress
The Ram's Horn was a weekly newspaper published and edited by Willis A. Hodges, a free Black born in Virginia. His family moved to New York in the mid-1830s after Nat Turner's rebellion prompted the Virginia legislature to severely limit the liberties of free Blacks, but they kept their family farm in Virginia. Active in school reform in Williamsburgh, the Black community in which he settled, he owned a grocery store and attended the Abyssinian Baptist Church.
John Brown
By the 1840s, Hodges functioned as one of the most outspoken advocates for abolition and equal rights in the State. His abolitionist newspaper caught the eye of Frederick Douglass and John Brown, both of whom contributed articles and funds. Brown published his essay entitled "Sambo's Mistakes" in Hodges' paper, castigating northern Blacks for not doing more to end slavery. Because of such essays as Brown's, the paper reached a peak circulation of 2,500. Hodges also argued in favor of re-settling free Blacks and escaped slaves on farms in up-state New York rather than in cities. After the paper ceased publication, Hodges continued to support abolitionist causes, including Brown. It is not known if Hodges was part of the Harpers Ferry planning, but when Brown was arrested in 1859, Hodges burned their correspondence. The editor may have helped the U.S. army as a scout in Virginia during the Civil War, but the evidence is uncertain. After the war, he was active in Virginia politics during the Reconstruction era and after the Democratic Party regained power in Virginia, he returned to New York in 1876, where he lived until his death in 1890.

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