Origin Stories: Charlotta Bass, The California Eagle

When you write for justice in Los Angeles or any major city, you can bet handily that Black communities did it first, as shown by the work of Charlotta Bass, photographed here circa 1929 at The California Eagle’s printing shop, which was once located at 1607 East 103rd street in Watts.

Bass was the sole editor-in-chief of The California Eagle, which was originally known as The Owl; The Owl had been founded by John J. Neimore, a Black man originally from Texas who started The Owl in Los Angeles in 1879 while still in his teen years. That is, two whole years before even the L.A. Times itself was established!

The California Eagle‘s printing shop, which was once located at 1607 East 103rd street in Watts; Photo Courtesy of USC Digital Libraries

From 1913 to 1951, as editor of L.A.’s first Black owned newspaper, Bass published tirelessly in the name of housing, racial, and economic justice. Among many other issues, Bass published writing against racial covenants, against the KKK in Los Angeles, in opposition to FDR’s internment of Japanese Americans, as well as in opposition to the unjust prosecution of Chicano youth alleged to be members of the 38th street “gang” in the infamous “Sleepy Lagoon” case.

The California Eagle as a publication survived until 1964, when it was sold, but despite the paper’s eventual folding, it still served as a premier cornerstone for Black and Immigrant voices in Los Angeles over four decades, that is, pre Civil Rights movement, pre Black Panther Party, and pre Chicano and Asian American movements in the city.

This blog thus recognizes Bass, Neimore, and every voice still to be heard for justice in Los Angeles over another century in contestation.

J.T.

EPISODE 31 – THELMA REYNA, GOLDEN FOOTHILLS PRESS

In our thirty-first episode, listeners meet Dr. Thelma Reyna, P.h.D., editor-in-chief of Golden Foothills Press in Altadena, California, and an accomplished author of more than ten books, including nonfiction, poetry anthologies, and more. Dr. Reyna describes her upbringing as a baby boomer, whose formative years were spent with her working-class family in the small conservative town of Kingsville, Texas, followed by her eventual journey to Pasadena, California. She also tells us about two books she published this year, including Dearest Papa: A Memoir in Poems,a tribute to her late husband of 50 years, as well as When The Virus Came Calling: COVID-19 Strikes America, an anthology of work by 46 different authors, including Richard Blanco, President Obama’s Poet Laureate at his 2013 inauguration, not to mention, work by yours truly.

J.T.

The book cover for Mike the Poet's Letters to My City, published in 2019

Letters To My City (2019)

Through a tremendous last couple of weeks between the Los Angeles Review of Books workshop, the new Los Cuentos Book Club, and more for your truly, I just finished Mike the Poet’s L.A.’s Letters to My City. By the turn of the final page, I both see it and hear it. Sonsken’s ‘letters’ are not just prose, but also songs from the heart to all comers. Most of all, they’re a tribute to those who’ve been here, as Sonsken shows no fear celebrating L.A.’s Black, Indigenous, Asian, Native & Latinx roots. His book can thus be though of as an invitation for all poets, writers, and anyone interested in uplifting this city and keeping its history sacred to tag along for the ride.

Sonsken’s writing also consistently understands that he’s not the guiding hand, but that his is one led by the voices of others, those around him to uncover or pay heed to the roots. Sonsken’s work therefore comes off as a round-table discussion, a gathering of minds from across L.A., but abundant especially with folks from the South and East sides, as well as with folks from less discussed “L.A.” like Long Beach, Oxnard and even Cerritos and the OC. It is a call for Los Angeles’s artists and all creators to come together with major respect to the city, to the communities, for the stories, which form the heartbeat of this sometimes totally cruel, sometimes surreal town. Los Cuentos sees this, and I look forward to passing Mike’s book along to the next generation of historians with major visions for our city.

Towards the end the book also leads to more questions. For one, I found myself reflecting on reparations awarded to Japanese-Americans in Los Angeles who faced internment. In a closing vignette on Little Tokyo’s history and a Buddhist temple in the area Mike writes:

A key component of Japanese religion and culture is the idea of ancestor veneration, essentially the idea of gratitude to your family and specifically appreciating one’s ancestors.

I thought then of the enslaved, and those whose lives were uprooted and taken by genocide and U.S. imperialism. I seriously wondered: where is the discussion in L.A. on reparations for African-American, Native, and also Mexican bodies? These are our ancestors, and there are more, in and even beyond America. I believe Sonsken would agree for a need to come together and discuss it, and that, at least in L.A., his book is certainly one way to start.

J.T.