Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biography of Victorine Spears (Kinloch), 1885-1951

 

By Katherine Riordan, Undergraduate, University of Rhode Island

Born in 1885 in South Carolina, Victorine Spears Kinloch led a life of social and political activism. Although a South Carolinian, her residencies changed from Rhode Island, New York, and California. In Rhode Island, she lived with older brother, Ellis Spears, in East Providence.

In 1916, Victorine Spears signed the Resolution of the RI Union Colored Women's Clubs Supporting the Federal Woman Suffrage Amendment. This petition contained the signatures of 24 black women, including famous suffragist Mary E. Jackson. The signing took place at the Congdon St. Baptist Church, the oldest Black Church in the city of Providence.

In New York, Victorine Spears married James Alexander Kinloch in 1921, and their son, John Spears Kinloch, was born the same year. There is a 1920 picture of Spears and Kinloch at Atlantic City that she most likely sent to her sister Charlotta Spears Bass [LINK to crowdsourcing sketch]. Censuses and city directories indicate she worked as a dressmaker in a private shop and Kinloch was a cigar maker.

Kinloch later moved to California and lived there with her son John and husband, James Kinloch. Victorine Spears Kinloch's sister, Charlotta Bass, also lived in California. Perhaps this was a motivator for Victorine to relocate to the west coast. Bass was the publisher and editor of the California Eagle, a Black-owned newspaper located out of Los Angeles and established in 1879. The California Eagle was the largest Black-run paper of the West Coast by the 1930s. Civil rights and women's rights activist Charlotta Bass was the first black woman to be the editor of a newspaper in the United States. She was also the first African American woman to be a vice-presidential candidate, running as the Progressive party candidate in 1952

Charlotta Bass had no children and intended her nephew to take over the paper when she retired. John Kinloch lived with Bass in Los Angeles, working as a California Eagle reporter and editor before joining the army. Many young Black men joined the military to gain middle-class respectability, but unfortunately, they faced discrimination while serving. Tragically, John Kinloch was killed in Germany on April 3rd, 1945 while serving in World War II. He is buried at the Long Island National Cemetery. John's mother, Victorine, was his life insurance beneficiary.

Victorine Spears Kinloch passed away on October 25, 1951, in New York City. From then, the insurance policy passed to Charlotta Bass in California, after a long investigation by the FBI who monitored the California Eagle due to its criticism of Jim Crow segregation and police violence against Black Americans.

UCLA, USC, and other research institutions have many photographs and documents related to the Spears sisters. For example, Victorine was photographed in a uniform in 1919, in 1947 with her sisters Charlotte and Lillian in California, and there is a 1951 portrait photograph of Victorine in New York.

Victorine Spears, February 1919.
http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p15799coll102/id/755/

Sources:

"Manhattan: Social and Club News." 20 Dec 1930, p. 2, The New York Age.

Bennett, Jessica. "Overlooked No More: Before Kamala Harris, There Was Charlotta Bass." New York Times, 4 September 2020.

Stafford, Kat. "How Black Women cleared a path for Harris as VP pick." Providence Journal, 20 Aug. 2020, p. 10.

Wallach, Ruth. Los Angeles in World War II. Arcadia Pub., 2011.

New York City Municipal Archives; Borough: Manhattan,;Volume,8

"Resolution of the [Rhode Island] Union Colored Women's Clubs Supporting the Federal Woman Suffrage Amendment, 1916." www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/image/RIUnionColoredWomenPetition1916.htm.

"The California Eagle." PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, accessible online at https://www.pbs.org/blackpress/news_bios/ca_eagle.html

Year: 1930; Census Place: Manhattan, New York, New York; Page: 5A; Enumeration District: 0983; FHL microfilm: 2341311

Charlotta Bass and her two sisters, Victorine Kinloch and Lillian Carter, at Knott's Berry Farm, Buena Park, 1947. Accessible online at Photo, https://digital.library.ucla.edu/catalog/ark:/21198/z1hh832w

Charlotta A. Bass Part 01 of 01.pdf - FBI Vault,

"FBI Records: The Vault. Charlotta A. Bass." https://vault.fbi.gov/charlotta-a.-bass/Charlotta%20A.%20Bass%20Part%2001%20of%2001/view

Death record for son John Kinloch. Accessible online at https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/2724757/john-s-kinloch

 

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