Angela Davis: A Living Witness of the Historical Struggle and an Advocate of the Contemporary Era
“I am no longer accepting the thing I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”
Who is Angela Davis?
Angela Davis is a radical African American educator, scholar, author and activist for civil rights and other social issues. She was born in Birmingham, Alabama, where she developed her ideals around racial activism. As a young woman, she joined the Black Panther Party and an all-Black branch of the communist party. Davis has been deeply involved in social and civil rights movements, which informed her teaching as a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her fight for economic, racial and gender justice continues to this day.
Angela Davis was born on January 26, 1944 to Sallyde and Frank Davis. She was brought up in a small community in Birmingham that was popularly nicknamed “Dynamite Hill” because of racial injustice and attacks by the Ku Klux Klan. At that time, Alabama was controlled by Commissioner of Public Safety Bull Connor, a notorious white supremacist. Davis grew up in a family and a community that was familiar with racial prejudice; this served as the foundation of her fight for civil and racial rights. She also knew some of the young Black girls that were killed in the Birmingham Church Bombing of 1963, which was orchestrated by the Ku Klux Klan as an act of terrorism, and for which no prosecution was brought until 1977. As a direct result of her surroundings, Davis began learning more about racial prejudice and the communist party while organizing interracial study groups that were broken up by the police not long after formation.
Davis studied both at home and abroad. At age 15, she moved to New York to attend high school while her mother, an elementary school teacher, pursued her master’s degree. After high school, Davis attended Brandeis University in Massachusetts where she studied Philosophy and French under the Marxist professor, Herbert Marcuse. She also spent several years abroad in Germany and at the Sorbonne in Paris. She obtained her doctoral degree at the University of California, San Diego, and began working at the University of California, Los Angeles as an acting associate professor of philosophy. In the 1960s, her commitment to the political fight grew, and she joined several groups including the Black Panther Party and the Che-Lumumba club, an all-Black branch of communist party. In 1970, due to her political opinions and the controversies surrounding these groups, the California Board of Regents refused to renew her appointment at UCLA. She took the case to court and won, securing her job. However, she lost her job that same year as the result of a case brought before the court by her school board regarding her incendiary statements, which also included allegations against the regents. After her dismissal from UCLA, she became more active in criminal justice and reform, as well as women's rights.
Political Career and involvement with the Soledad Brothers
Angela Davis's interest in the fight for prison rights and against racial prejudice developed her firm support for The Soledad Brothers, three Black unrelated prison inmates at Soledad State Prison. These three men-- John W. Cluchette, Fleeta Drumgo, and George Lester Jackson- were accused of murdering a prison guard. On August 7, 1970, during the men’s trial at the Hall of Justice in Marin County, Jonathan Jackson, the brother of George Jackson, gained control over the courtroom. He took the Superior Court Judge Harold Haley, Persecutor Gary Thomas and three other jurors hostage in exchange for the freedom of the Soledad brothers. As a result, a shootout ensued and Jonathan Jackson, Judge Haley, and two other prisoners were killed. Meanwhile, Davis was suspected of being an accomplice; she allegedly had a close relationship with George Jackson, and the weapons used by Jonathan Jackson were registered in her name. She went into hiding, making her one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives at the time. She was caught two months later in New York City. Her case, however, drew the attention of the international press and protestors alike. An all-white jury acquitted her in June 1972 after she spent roughly 18 months in jail.
During her imprisonment and trial, Davis gained international attention. After her release, she continued her advocacy for civil and women’s rights, as well as for prison rights. In 1980, she ran as Gus Hall's running mate during his United States presidential campaign on the Communist party ticket; although their campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, her morale was not weakened. She joined forces with multiple organizations, including the National Alliance against Racist and Political Repression, and is on the national board of the National Political Congress of Black Women. Additionally, she co-founded Critical Resistance, an organization that aims to end the prison industrial complex. Internationally, she is affiliated with Sisters Inside, an abolitionist organization based in Queensland, Australia that works in solidarity with women in prison. She has since promoted feminist thinking that pushes back against hyper-masculine political leadership and promotes forms of resistance.
Currently, Davis is a retired professor, having formerly taught in the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz until 2008. Additionally, she served as the Director at the University’s Feminist Studies Department. Her research interest has included multitudes of topics across the subject areas of feminism, African American studies, critical theory, Marxism, and the history of punishment and prisons.
In 2017, she became a featured speaker and an honorary co-chair at the Women's March in Washington after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Today, she is a distinguished professor emeriti at the University of California, Santa Cruz and a prominent civil rights activist.
African American Heritage, The Black Panther Party
Abdul Rob, Angela Davis
Beverly Beyette, Angela Davis Now: On a Quiet Street in Oakland, the Former Radical Activist Has Settled In but Not Settled down
Debbie Elliott, Remembering Birmingham's 'Dynamite Hill' Neighbourhood.
History.com Editors, Ku Klux Klan
Sister Inside Inc, Supporting Criminalised Women, Girls, Children and Families
Tracy Onyenacho, Black August: Marine County Rebellion
Scott Rappaport, UCSC emerita professor Angela Davis to be inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame
University of Louisiana, Artifacts:Angela Davis Reception Flyer