Where is The Angela Davis of Today’s Generation? She Never Left!
In the spirit of Women’s History Month, I thought author and activist Angela Davis would make a great subject to write about. Angela has been active in many areas of human rights and social change beginning in the early 60’s civil rights movement. For almost 50 years she has been a leading voice in feminism, LGBT rights, prison reform, and racial injustice. In addition, she was under constant watch of the FBI, and was wrongfully imprisoned for two years before she was tried and acquitted for alleged activity involving the kidnapping and murder of a California judge. Without further adieu, I give you the story of Angela Davis!
Angela Davis was born on Jan 26, 1944 in Birmingham Alabama. The daughter of a car mechanic and school teacher, she was raised in a section of Birmingham nicknamed Dynamite Hill because of the numerous bombings in the area by the Ku Klux Klan.
In her junior year of high school she left with her mother Sally to go to New York City. Her mother had decided to enroll in grad school at New York University, and while Angela was attending high school in New York, she was introduced to communism and socialism through the communist youth group Advance. Through her membership in Advance, she met many teenagers whose parents were leaders of the Communist Party USA, including her life long friend Bettina Aptheker.
After graduating high school, she enrolled in Brandeis University in Massachusetts where she studied French. While at Brandeis, she met a major influence in her political and academic life Herbert Marcuse. It was Marcuse, a philosophy professor in Frankfurt Germany who taught Angela “that it was possible to be an academic, an activist, a scholar, and a revolutionary.” Angela’s political ideologies and activism though still in the early stages was already earning her notoriety; after traveling to Finland to attend a communist sponsored festival, she returned home in 1963, to find the FBI waiting to interview her about her attendance at the festival in Helsinki.
During her second year at Brandeis, the university allowed her to travel to Paris, where she studied French at the Sorbonne. It was during this time of a church bombing by the KKK in her home town of Birmingham. This bombing deeply affected her, due to the fact that she lost many friends in the explosion. Although she remained in school at the time, the tragedy would become a major influence in joining black activist groups such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Black Panthers in 1967.
After graduating from Brandeis in 1965, she moved to Frankfurt Germany to teach and study philosophy. After two years, she moved to San Diego, following her mentor Herbert Marcuse. During this time she decided to join the American Communist Party, in addition to the SNCC and Black Panthers. By 1969, Angela was already known as a feminist, political activist, and communist. Because of her affiliations, then Governor Ronald Reagan pressured UCLA where she worked as an assistant professor to fire her. She was later reinstated after taking legal action.
1970 was a landmark year for Angela Davis; she had become active in political reform and was particularly interested in the case of George Jackson, a man falsely imprisoned for the armed robbery of a gas station in California. Jackson as well as his friend W.L. Nolan started their own chapter of the Black Panthers in Soledad Prison, and in early 1970, Nolan was shot and killed by a prison guard. Soon after, the guard was found murdered and Jackson was indicted. In August of that year Jon Jackson, George’s younger brother broke into a California courtroom taking Judge Harold Haley hostage, demanding that George be set free. While trying to leave both Haley and the younger Jackson were gunned down. This would seriously affect Angela, because she was implicated in the kidnapping.
Allegedly the guns were traced back to Angela and letters from her were found in George Jackson’s prison cell after he was murdered later in august. Soon after, a warrant was issued for her arrest, and she became the third woman to be placed on the FBI’s ten most wanted list. Angela fled California, but was arrested two months later in New York. She would remain in prison for two years before she was finally given a trial and rightfully acquitted.
After her acquittal and release from prison, Angela picked up where she left off; she lived for a short time in Cuba with fellow activists Huey Newton and Stokely Carmichael. She returned in 1975, and began lecturing on women’s studies, ethnic studies and prison reform, as well as staying active in the civil rights and feminist movements. In 1980 and 1984, she ran for Vice President on the Communist Party ticket. After 1990, she left the American Communist Party and helped form the Democratic Socialist Party to which she is still currently a member.
Currently, Angela is a Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Women’s and Gender Studies Department at Syracuse University. She still travels the country speaking out on women’s issues, LGBT issues, racial issues, political activism and prison reform. She has written many books on activism including If They Come in the Morning: Voices of Resistance (1971), Angela Davis: An Autobiography (1974), Women, Race and Class (1981), Women, Culture, and Politics (1989) ,and Abolition Democracy: Prisons, Democracy, and Empire (2005).
Angela Davis is one of the few remaining icons for the political activist movements of the 1960’s and 70’s. Nearly 50 years after she became involved in the American Communist movement and civil rights movement, she still remains politically active. Her presence is of vital importance in both the literary and political world. She is a reminder of how important it is to understand what is going on in our society, and to have the courage to speak out against social injustice. Until recently, I feared that political activism on a wide scale was dead. There were no more Ginsburgs, or Hoffmans, or Martin Luther King Jrs, or Betty Friedans who could polarize a generation and get them involved. After getting involved myself in peacefully protesting, and seeing first hand the grass roots movements crying out to make their voices heard, I can still cling to the hope that there may be more Angela Davis’s in the world. Perhaps she is one of your daughters; maybe she is our niece, who accompanied us to march for Planned Parenthood last Saturday. Where ever she is encourage her, educate her, allow her to think for her self. She may just make you proud while leading the next generation of activists. I for one, am clinging to that belief for all I’m worth.