THE DIGITAL REPOSITORY FOR THE BLACK EXPERIENCE
- Get Involved
"Keep your Eyes on the Prize."
Former U.S. Congresswoman and Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass was born on October 3, 1953 in Los Angeles, California to Wilhelmina Duckett and DeWitt Talmadge Bass. She graduated from the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine’s physician assistant program in 1982 and received her B.S. degree in health sciences from California State University, Dominguez Hills in 1990 and her M.S.W. degree from the University of Southern California in 2015.
In 1982, Bass was hired as a physician assistant and clinical instructor at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine and director of the University of Southern California’s Health Careers Opportunity Program. In 1990, she co-founded and served as executive director of Community Coalition, a community-based social justice organization in South Los Angeles. In 2004, Bass was elected to the California State Assembly, representing the 47th Assembly District. During her first term, she founded and chaired the California Assembly Select Committee on Foster Care; and, in 2005 she was appointed majority whip of the California State Assembly for the 2005-2006 legislative session. During her second term, Bass was appointed majority floor leader; and in 2008, during her third term, she was elected the sixty-seventh speaker of the California State Assembly, becoming the first African American woman to serve as speaker of any state legislature. In 2010, Bass was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, representing California’s thirty-third congressional district.
In Congress, Bass founded the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth. Bass was re-elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012, representing California’s thirty-seventh congressional district. During her third term in the House, beginning in 2014, she was appointed second vice chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. Bass was elected chair of the Congressional Black Caucus in 2019, serving in that role until 2021. She helped pass the First Step Act in 2018 and, in 2020, she and Congressman Jerry Nadler co-authored the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 and she helped pass the Equality Act of 2020. In 2022, Bass was elected mayor of Los Angeles, becoming the first woman and second African American to hold this position.
In the U.S. House of Representatives, Bass served on the Committee on Foreign Affairs and on its Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, and as chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations. She also has served on the Committee on the Judiciary and as chair of its Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.
Bass founded the National Foster Youth Institute in 2012 and the Sea Change Leadership PAC in 2018. She has been a member of the American Academy of Physician Assistants since 1990.
In 2010, Bass received the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award from the John F. Kennedy Library.
Bass resides in Los Angeles, California. She had one daughter, Emilia Bass-Lechuga, and has four stepchildren, Scythia, Omar, Yvette, and Ollin.
The Honorable Karen Bass was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 14, 2022.