Educator and activist Angela Davis (1944-) became known for her involvement in a politically charged murder case in the early 1970s. Influenced by her segregated upbringing in Birmingham, Alabama, Davis joined the Black Panthers and an all-Black branch of the Communist Party as a young woman. She became a professor at UCLA, but fell out of favor with the administration due to her ties. Davis was charged with aiding the botched escape attempt of imprisoned Black radical George Jackson, and served roughly 18 months in jail before her acquittal in 1972. After spending time traveling and lecturing, Davis returned to the classroom as a professor and authored several books.
Angela Davis: Early Life and Education
Angela Yvonne Davis is best known as a radical African American educator and activist for civil rights and other social issues. She was born on January 26, 1944, in Birmingham, Alabama to Sallye and Frank Davis, an elementary school teacher and the owner of a service station, respectively. Davis knew about racial prejudice from a young age; her neighborhood in Birmingham was nicknamed “Dynamite Hill” for the number of homes targeted by the Ku Klux Klan. As a teenager, Davis organized interracial study groups, which were broken up by the police. She also knew several of the young African American girls killed in the Birmingham church bombing of 1963.
Angela Davis later moved north and went to Brandeis University in Massachusetts where she studied philosophy with Herbert Marcuse. As a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego, in the late 1960s, she joined several groups, including the Black Panthers. But she spent most of her time working with the Che-Lumumba Club, which was all-Black branch of the Communist Party.
Hired to teach at the University of California, Los Angeles, Angela Davis ran into trouble with the school’s administration because of her association with communism. They fired her, but she fought them in court and got her job back. Davis still ended up leaving when her contract expired in 1970.
READ MORE: How the Black Power Movement Influenced the Civil Rights Movement
Angela Davis and the Soledad Brothers
Outside of academia, Angela Davis had become a strong supporter of three prison inmates of Soledad Prison known as the Soledad brothers (they were not related). These three men—John W. Cluchette, Fleeta Drumgo, and George Lester Jackson—were accused of killing a prison guard after several African American inmates had been killed in a fight by another guard. Some thought these prisoners were being used as scapegoats because of the political work within the prison.
During Jackson’s trial in August 1970, an escape attempt was made when Jackson’s brother Jonathan entered the courtroom to claim hostages he could exchange for his brother. Jonathan Jackson, Superior Court Judge Harold Haley, and two inmates were killed in the ensuing shoot-out.
Angela Davis was brought up on several charges for her alleged part in the event, including murder. She went into hiding and was one of the FBI’s “Most Wanted” before being caught two months later. There were two main pieces of evidence used at trial: the guns used were registered to her, and she was reportedly in love with Jackson. Her case drew the attention of the international press and after spending roughly 18 months in jail, Davis was acquitted in June 1972.
Angela Davis Books
After spending time traveling and lecturing, Angela Davis returned to teaching. Today, she is a Distinguished Professor Emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Davis is the author of several books, including Women, Race, and Class (1980), Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday (1999), Are Prisons Obsolete? (2003), Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons, and Torture (2005), The Meaning of Freedom: And Other Difficult Dialogues (2012) and Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement (2016).
Angela Davis Biography, Education, Children And Family Facts
Angela Davis is one of the few Americans who has achieved praiseworthy success in various functions she has held in her country. She is the author of several books, a political activist, educator, and communist who worked with her until 1991 when she left the party.
In her active years, Angela identified herself with numerous committees and movements, including the Black Panther Party. As an educator, she taught at a number of prominent universities and was the founder of the Corresponding Committees for Democracy and Socialism. She also appeared on several media platforms and gave interviews to the media on many issues affecting society. It is thanks to her that Angela was among those who founded the organization “Critical Resistance”. You can learn more about her here.
What Angela Davis has to say about today's Black Lives Matter movement
The controversial activist and scholar spoke to the New York Times.
- Angela Davis is a scholar and activist known for her involvement in the civil rights movement.
- She is controversial to many due to her critiques of capitalism and endorsement of communism.
- A Black, lesbian woman, Davis identifies strongly with the current movements for equality.
Standing in court with her afro and fist raised, clenched, in the air, Angela Davis became an icon to many, a villain to others. She was prosecuted for three capital charges after guns belonging to her were used in an armed takeover of a courtroom in California in 1970 that resulted in four deaths. She was acquitted and went on to have a long career as a professor, activist and author.
Now 76, the scholar and activist identifies as a "little c communist," she told the New York Times in a recent interview in a recent interview . Decades after being listed on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List as a terrorist, Davis is a leader and an inspiration to many Americans, but remains controversial to many others.
Davis spoke to the New York Times for its October series, “The Greats,” which celebrates five masters of their crafts, including Dawoud Bey, Barbara Kruger, FKA Twigs and Sigourney Weaver. Here’s what she had to say.
On her legacy:
“For a long time, I felt somewhat intimidated. I felt that there was no way that I, as an individual, could actually live up to the expectations incorporated in that image. There came a point when I realized I didn’t have to. The image does not reflect who I am as an individual, it reflects the work of the movement.”
Davis told the New York Times it all came into perspective when she met a young woman in a foster-care program wearing the activist’s face on her shirt. “She didn’t know a great deal about me at all, but she said, ‘Whenever I wear this, I feel like I can accomplish anything. It makes me feel empowered.’ From that moment, I realized it really was not about me as an individual. It was about the fact that my image was a stand-in for the work that masses are able to do in terms of changing the world.”
“That book represents a number of positions of people who had a broader, more — the term we use now is ‘intersectional’ — analysis of what it means to struggle for gender equality,” she says. “At the time that I wrote it, I was interested in pointing out that gender did not have to be seen in competition with race. That women’s issues did not belong to middle-class white women. In many ways, that research was about uncovering the contributions of women who were completely marginalized by histories of the women’s movement, especially Black women, but also Latino women and working-class women.”
THE LATEST ON THE BLACK LIVES MATTER MOVEMENT
In the mid-1970s, Davis advocated on behalf of Delbert Tibbs , a Black man falsely accused of rape and murder in Florida. “He was facing the death penalty,” she told the New York Times. “We were appealing to these white feminists to support him as well as Little, and there was reluctance. Some white feminists did, but by and large that appeal fell flat. So how is it possible to develop the kinds of arguments that will allow people to recognize that one cannot effectively struggle for gender equality without racial equality?”
On the LGBTQ+ community:
“We didn’t include gender issues in [earlier] struggles. There would have been no way to imagine that trans movements would effectively demonstrate to people that it is possible to effectively challenge what counts as normal in so many different areas of our lives,” Davis told the New York Times. “A part of me is glad that we didn’t win the revolution we were fighting for back then, because there would still be male supremacy. There would still be hetero-patriarchy. There would be all of these things that we had not yet come to consciousness about.”
On abolishing the police:
“The abolitionist imagination delinks us from that which is,” Davis told the New York Times. “It allows us to imagine other ways of addressing issues of safety and security. Most of us have assumed in the past that when it comes to public safety, the police are the ones who are in charge. When it comes to issues of harm in the community, prisons are the answer. But what if we imagined different modes of addressing harm, different modes of addressing security and safety?”
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“What if we ask ourselves, ‘Why is it that whenever an issue arises in the community that involves, say, a person who is intellectually disabled or mentally challenged, the first impulse is to call an officer with a gun?’ Why do we assume that the police are the ones who will be able to recreate order and safety for us? In those instances, there have been so many cases of people being killed by the police simply because of their mental health. This is especially the case with Black people.”
On the coronavirus pandemic:
“As we looked at the damage that the pandemic was doing, people began to realize the extent to which Black communities, brown communities and Indigenous communities were sustaining the effect of a pandemic in ways that pointed to the existence of structural racism. Then there was the fact that we were all sheltered in place in a sense, we were compelled to be the witnesses of police lynching. That allowed people to make connections with the whole history of policing and the history of lynching and the extent to which slavery is still very much a part of the influences in our society today.”
On the role of black women in history:
“Inevitably, when one asks who is the leader of this movement, one imagines a charismatic male figure: the Martin Luther Kings, the Malcolm Xs, the Marcus Garveys. All of these men have made absolutely important contributions, but we can also work with other models of leadership that are rooted in our struggles of the past.”
“[The boycott] took place because Black women — domestic workers — had the collective imagination to believe that it was possible to change the world, and they were the ones who refused to ride the bus,” Davis told the New York Times. “The collective leadership we see today dates back to the unacknowledged work of Rosa Parks and Ella Baker and many others, who did so much to create the basis for radical movements against racism.”
“The elephant in the room is always capitalism. Even when we fail to have an explicit conversation about capitalism, it is the driving force of so much when we talk about racism. Capitalism has always been racial capitalism.”
“When we do this work of organizing against racism, hetero-patriarchy, capitalism — organizing to change the world — there are no guarantees, to use Stuart Hall’s phrase, that our work will have an immediate effect,” Davis told the New York Times. “But we have to do it as if it were possible.”
On today’s Black Lives Matter movement:
“‘Structural racism,’ ‘white supremacy,’ all of these terms that have been used for decades in the ranks of our movements have now become a part of popular discourse,” she told the New York Times.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that our work as activists is always to prepare the next generation,” she says. “To create new terrains so that those who come after us will have a better opportunity to get up and engage in even more radical struggles. And I think we’re seeing this now.” She plans to be around to see it through.
Angela Davis (1944-)
Angela Davis, activist, educator, and scholar, was born on January 26, 1944, in the “Dynamite Hill” area of Birmingham, Alabama. The area received that name because so many African American homes in this middle class neighborhood had been bombed over the years by the Ku Klux Klan. Her father, Frank Davis, was a service station owner and her mother, Sallye Davis, was an elementary school teacher. Davis’s mother was also active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), when it was dangerous to be openly associated with the organization because of its civil rights activities. As a teenager Davis moved to New York City with her mother, who was pursuing a master’s degree at New York University. While there she attended Elizabeth Irwin High School, a school considered leftist because a number of its teachers were blacklisted during the McCarthy era for their earlier alleged Communist activities.
In 1961 Davis enrolled in Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. While at Brandeis, Davis also studied abroad for a year in France and returned to the U.S. to complete her studies, joining Phi Beta Kappa and earning her B.A. (magna cum laude) in 1965. Even before her graduation, Davis, so moved by the deaths of the four girls killed in the bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in her hometown in 1963, that she decided to join the civil rights movement. By 1967, however, Davis was influenced by Black Power advocates and joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and then the Black Panther Party. She also continued her education, earning an M.A. from the University of California at San Diego in 1968. Davis moved further to the left in the same year when she became a member of the American Communist Party.
In 1969, Angela Davis was hired by the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) as an assistant professor of philosophy, but her involvement in the Communist Party led to her dismissal. During the early 1970s, she also became active in the movement to improve prison conditions for inmates. That work led to her campaign to release the “Soledad (Prison) Brothers.” The Soledad Brothers were two African American prisoners and Black Panther Party members, George Jackson and W. L. Nolen, who were incarcerated in the late 1960s.
On August 7, 1970, Jonathan Jackson, the younger brother of George Jackson, attempted to free prisoners who were on trial in the Marin County Courthouse. During this failed attempt, Superior Court Judge Harold Haley and three others, including Jonathan Jackson, were killed. Although Davis did not participate in the actual break-out attempt, she became a suspect when it was discovered that the guns used by Jackson were registered in her name. Davis fled to avoid arrest and was placed on the FBI’s most wanted list. Law enforcement captured her several months later in New York. During her high profile trial in 1972, Davis was acquitted on all charges.
The incident nonetheless generated an outcry against Davis. Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, Reagan campaigned to prevent her from teaching in the state university system. Despite the governor’s objection, Davis became a lecturer in women’s and ethnic studies at San Francisco State University in 1977.
As a scholar, Davis has authored eleven books, including Angela Davis: An Autobiography in 1974 Women, Race, and Class in 1983 and Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday in 1999.
In the political arena, Davis ran unsuccessfully in 1980 and 1984 on the Communist Party ticket for vice president of the United States. Davis continues to be an activist and lecturer as Professor Emeritus of History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz.
Activist, author, and professor, Angela Davis was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on January 26, 1944, the daughter of two teachers. Active at an early age in the Black Panthers and the Communist Party, Davis also formed an interracial study group and volunteered for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee while still in high school. At fifteen, after earning a scholarship, Davis traveled to New York to complete high school. In 1960, Davis traveled to Germany to study for two years, and then to the University of Paris for another year. After returning to the United States, Davis attended Brandeis University, where she graduated magna cum laude in 1965. Davis then returned to Germany for further study before enrolling in the University of California, San Diego, where she earned her M.A. degree in 1968.
Upon earning her master's degree, Davis became an assistant professor at UCSD, but due to her connections with the Panthers and the Communist Party, she was removed a year later. Following her dismissal, Davis worked to free the Soledad Prison Brothers and befriended an inmate, George Jackson. In August of 1970, Jackson and several other inmates attempted to escape from the Marin County Courthouse, and a judge and three others were killed. Davis was quickly put on the FBI's most wanted list, despite the fact that she was not at the crime scene, and was apprehended in New York. After spending eighteen months in jail during her trial, Davis was acquitted in 1972. While in prison, Davis wrote her first book, If They Come in the Morning: Voices of Resistance, entirely by hand. After her acquittal, Governor Ronald Reagan vowed she would never teach in California again, but nevertheless, she was immediately hired by San Francisco State University, where she stayed for another twelve years. Entering the political ring, Davis ran on the Communist Party ticket as vice president in 1980 and 1984. When the Soviet Union began to fall apart, however, Davis gave up communism. Davis continued to teach in the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Davis toured across the United States and the world lecturing on prison reform, and served on the advisory board of the Prison Activist Resource Center. Davis also co-founded the Committees of Correspondence, an organization that seeks to unite all socialist groups in the United States.
Are you an author?
Activist and scholar Angela Y. Davis has been a tireless fighter against oppression for decades. Now, the iconic author of Women, Race, and Class offers her latest insights into the struggles against state violence and oppression throughout history and around the world.
Reflecting on the importance of black feminism, intersectionality, and prison abolitionism, Davis discusses the legacies of previous liberation struggles, from the Black Freedom Movement to the South African anti-Apartheid movement. She highlights connections and analyzes today’s struggles against state terror, from Ferguson to Palestine.
Facing a world of outrageous injustice, Davis challenges us to imagine and build a movement for human liberation. And in doing so, she reminds us that “freedom is a constant struggle.”
This edition of Freedom Is a Constant Struggle includes a foreword by Dr. Cornel West and an introduction by Frank Barat.
Want to Better Understand Socialism? New York Magazine recommends The Meaning of Freedom
What is the meaning of freedom? Angela Y. Davis' life and work have been dedicated to examining this fundamental question and to ending all forms of oppression that deny people their political, cultural, and sexual freedom. In this collection of twelve searing, previously unpublished speeches, Davis confronts the interconnected issues of power, race, gender, class, incarceration, conservatism, and the ongoing need for social change in the United States. With her characteristic brilliance, historical insight, and penetrating analysis, Davis addresses examples of institutional injustice and explores the radical notion of freedom as a collective striving for real democracy - not something granted or guaranteed through laws, proclamations, or policies, but something that grows from a participatory social process that demands new ways of thinking and being. "The speeches gathered together here are timely and timeless," writes Robin D.G. Kelley in the foreword, "they embody Angela Davis' uniquely radical vision of the society we need to build, and the path to get there."
The Meaning of Freedom articulates a bold vision of the society we need to build and the path to get there. This is her only book of speeches.
"Davis' arguments for justice are formidable. . . . The power of her historical insights and the sweetness of her dream cannot be denied."—The New York Times
"One of America's last truly fearless public intellectuals." —Cynthia McKinney, former US Congresswoman
"Angela Davis deserves credit, not just for the dignity and courage with which she has lived her life, but also for raising important critiques of a for-profit penitentiary system decades before those arguments gained purchase in the mainstream." —Thomas Chatterton Williams, SFGate
"Angela Davis's revolutionary spirit is still strong. Still with us, thank goodness!"
"Long before 'race/gender' became the obligatory injunction it is now, Angela Davis was developing an analytical framework that brought all of these factors into play. For readers who only see Angela Davis as a public icon . . . meet the real Angela Davis: perhaps the leading public intellectual of our era." —Robin D. G. Kelley author of Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original
"There was a time in America when to call a person an 'abolitionist' was the ultimate epithet. It evoked scorn in the North and outrage in the South. Yet they were the harbingers of things to come. They were on the right side of history. Prof. Angela Y. Davis stands in that proud, radical tradition." —Mumia Abu-Jamal, author of Jailhouse Lawyers: Prisoners Defending Prisoners v. the U.S.A.
"Behold the heart and mind of Angela Davis, open, relentless, and on time!" —June Jordan
With race and the police once more burning issues, this classic work from one of America’s giants of black radicalism has lost none of its prescience or power
One of America’s most historic political trials is undoubtedly that of Angela Davis. Opening with a letter from James Baldwin to Davis, and including contributions from numerous radicals such as Black Panthers George Jackson, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale and Erica Huggins, this book is not only an account of Davis’s incarceration and the struggles surrounding it, but also perhaps the most comprehensive and thorough analysis of the prison system of the United State.
Since the book was written, the carceral system in the US has seen unprecedented growth, with more of America’s black population behind bars than ever before. The scathing analysis of the role of prison and the policing of black populations offered by Davis and her comrades in this astonishing volume remains as pertinent today as the day it was first published.
Featuring contributions from George Jackson, Bettina Aptheker, Bobby Seale, James Baldwin, Ruchell Magee, Julian Bond, Huey P. Newton, Erika Huggins, Fleeta Drumgo, John Clutchette, and others.
“Expert and well-reasoned commentary on the justice system. . . . His writings are dangerous.”—The Village Voice
In Jailhouse Lawyers, award-winning journalist and death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal presents the stories and reflections of fellow prisoners-turned-advocates who have learned to use the court system to represent other prisoners—many uneducated or illiterate—and, in some cases, to win their freedom. In Abu-Jamal’s words, “This is the story of law learned, not in the ivory towers of multi-billion-dollar endowed universities [but] in the bowels of the slave-ship, in the dank dungeons of America.”
Dalla più amata rivoluzionaria della nostra epoca, un'analisi limpida, un monito chiarissimo.
«Le parole che Angela Davis spende per la giustizia sono formidabili. Non si possono negare la potenza delle sue considerazioni storiche e la dolcezza del suo sogno.»
The New York Times
«Un’analisi incisiva, urgente e completa. Questi saggi ci riportano indietro nella storia fino agli iniziatori delle lotte rivoluzionarie e antirazziste, ma ci offrono anche la prospettiva di una solidarietà attuale tra tutte le forme di lotta. Angela, con le sue lucide parole, chiama a raccolta la nostra storia luminosa per un promettente futuro di libertà.»
Angela Davis, figura centrale e simbolica delle lotte di libertà e per i diritti civili in tutto il mondo, ben al di là del movimento di liberazione afroamericano, torna dopo oltre dieci anni con un libro di riflessione e di militanza politica. Negli interventi qui raccolti, Davis mette l'accento su un punto fondamentale: tutte le lotte di liberazione sono interdipendenti, da quelle che prendono a oggetto le discriminazioni di classe, di genere, di razza, in base alla nazionalità, all'orientamento sessuale o alle abilità fisiche e mentali, fino all'ambientalismo e persino all'animalismo. Il nome di questa idea è complicato («intersezionalità») ma la sostanza è molto semplice: «è impossibile raccontare davvero quella che si ritiene la propria storia senza conoscere le storie degli altri. E spesso scopriamo che le storie degli altri in definitiva sono le nostre», scrive Davis scopriamo cioè che i meccanismi dell'oppressione, dell'esclusione e dello sfruttamento sono gli stessi, e le lotte possono essere efficaci solo se si uniscono. Tenendo fede alla sua intuizione fondamentale, Davis affronta qui un'ampia gamma di fenomeni –la violenza domestica e di genere, la violenza della polizia statunitense sui neri, le speculazioni delle multinazionali, l’occupazione dei territori palestinesi, la situazione delle carceri… – e li collega in un auspicio, anzi in un vero programma di lotta globale per i diritti essenziali: a un'adeguata alimentazione, all’istruzione, alla salute, alla casa, al lavoro, a un'esistenza pacifica e dignitosa in definitiva, alla libertà.
9 Essential Angela Davis Books to Add to Your Shelf
As an iconic educator, scholar, and leader in the civil rights movement, Angela Davis is an obligatory add to your list of must-read black authors. Davis was an activist, communist, and a member of the Black Panthers during the 1960s and 1970s, but her name hit headlines after she was implicated in a high profile murder case that led her into hiding and eventual imprisonment.
She was acquitted in 1972, and has since used her advocacy to teach those in the public and the classroom about her fight for global equality for the oppressed. &ldquoYou have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time,&rdquo she said during a 2014 lecture at Southern Illinois University.
Now a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Davis has penned 9 books, each offering enlightening prose on feminism, racism, prisons, and more.
In this collection of essays, interviews, and speeches, Davis brings her perspective of decades of civil rights advocacy to present day movements such as Black Lives Matter and prison reform.
Through 12 previously unpublished speeches, the activist examines the meaning of freedom by reflecting on themes of gender, class, power, and more.
In a series of interviews, Davis uses her own experiences as a former prisoner and name on the FBI's most-wanted list, to examine how the U.S. treats those deemed "enemy of the state."
In one of her most famous books, Davis argues that it's time for "decarceration" so that society can work towards a reality where exploitive prisons are obsolete, and the system that created a need for them is called into question.
Published in 1989, Davis examines the significant changes of the previous decade in regards to economic, racial, and sexual equality.
Davis chronicles the extraordinary lives of three iconic Blues singers&mdash"Ma" Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday&mdashand how their stories informed Black feminism.
In this analysis of the women's liberation movement from the 1960s-80s, Davis critiques the revolution and its leaders for their blind spot when it came to Black women, people of color, and citizens of various social classes.
Published in 1974, Davis tells the powerfully gripping story of her life and what led to her commitment to the liberation of the oppressed.
Opening with a letter addressed to her by James Baldwin, she recounts her year-plus wrongful incarceration. In 1971, Davis&mdashaligned with the revolutionary Black Panthers&mdashwas charged with conspiracy, murder, and kidnapping, but was acquitted in 1972.
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Angela Davis, in full Angela Yvonne Davis, (born Jan. 26, 1944, Birmingham, Ala., U.S.), militant American black activist who gained an international reputation during her imprisonment and trial on conspiracy charges in 1970–72.
The daughter of Alabama schoolteachers, Davis studied at home and abroad (1961–67) before becoming a doctoral candidate at the University of California, San Diego, under the Marxist professor Herbert Marcuse. Because of her political opinions and despite an excellent record as an instructor at the university’s Los Angeles campus, the California Board of Regents in 1970 refused to renew her appointment as lecturer in philosophy. In 1991, however, Davis became a professor in the field of the history of consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz. In 1995, amid much controversy, she was appointed a presidential chair. She became professor emerita in 2008.
Championing the cause of black prisoners in the 1960s and ’70s, Davis grew particularly attached to a young revolutionary, George Jackson, one of the so-called Soledad Brothers (after Soledad Prison). Jackson’s brother Jonathan was among the four persons killed—including the trial judge—in an abortive escape and kidnapping attempt from the Hall of Justice in Marin county, California (Aug. 7, 1970). Suspected of complicity, Davis was sought for arrest and became one of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most wanted criminals. Arrested in New York City in October 1970, she was returned to California to face charges of kidnapping, murder, and conspiracy she was acquitted of all charges by an all-white jury.
Angela DavisAngela Davis Lecture at UAB Angela Yvonne Davis was born in Birmingham on January 26, 1944, the oldest of four children of service-station owner B. Frank Davis, who also briefly taught school, and schoolteacher Sally E. Davis. When Davis was four, her family moved out of the all-black projects into a white neighborhood. The following spring, white supremacists opposed to integration bombed the home of their neighbors. Bombings soon became such a constant that this section of Birmingham gained the nickname, "Dynamite Hill." Davis attended the Carrie A. Tuggle School, which had the battered textbooks and dilapidated buildings typical of many black-only schools in the days of Jim Crow. Eager to leave Birmingham, Davis won a scholarship in 1959 to study at Elizabeth Irwin High School in New York City. She subsequently attended Brandeis University on a scholarship to study French literature and spent her junior year abroad at the University of Paris. While in Paris, Davis learned of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in which four girls, friends of the Davis family, were killed. The murders left Davis grief-stricken and angry. She graduated magna cum laude in French literature in 1965 and pursued graduate work in philosophy at Johann Wolfgang von Goethe University in Germany under famed Marxist theorist Theodor Adorno. Angela Davis Davis returned to the United States in 1967 to study for her doctorate in philosophy under famed Marxist scholar Herbert Marcuse at the University of California, San Diego and join in the civil rights movement. Davis had become interested in mass movements opposing racism, classism, and colonialism while in Europe. In her dissertation, she discussed eighteenth-century philosopher Immanuel Kant's analysis of violence in the French Revolution. More of an academic than a demonstrator, Davis became a member of the Che-Lumumba Club of the Communist Party in the USA in 1968 and made many friends among the Black Panthers at a time when both organizations were calling for radical change in the United States and were feared by mainstream America. Angela Davis at UCLA The philosophy department and much of the UCLA faculty stood strongly behind Davis. With approximately 1,000 other professors on campus, the faculty doubted that Davis would be very influential if she chose to promote Communism, and there was no evidence that she intended to promote her political philosophy. Foiled in their efforts to fire Davis, the regents instead monitored her teaching. Students attracted by both the controversy and her teaching skills packed her classes. On a more negative side, the notoriety made Davis the target of daily death threats, forcing her to change her apartment three times and arrange for bodyguards. With her large Afro hairstyle, Davis became symbolic of the politically militant black woman. Developing an interest in prisoners' rights, she became the Los Angeles chair of the Soledad Brothers Defense Committee, set up to marshal support for three black convicts at Soledad State Prison who were accused of murdering a prison guard. UCLA, subsequently censured for this action by the American Association of University Professors, fired Davis in June 1970 for "unprofessional conduct" for her support of the Soledad Brothers. Communist Party USA Poster After her acquittal, Davis toured the world. Returning to the U.S., she helped found the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression in 1973 to help free political prisoners. Beginning in the 1970s, she taught black philosophy and women's studies in the Ethnic Studies Department at San Francisco State University. A popular lecturer and respected academic, Davis also taught at the San Francisco Art Institute. Continuing her political activism, she ran for vice president of the United States on the Communist Party ticket in 1980 and 1984. She married photographer Hilton Braithwaite in 1980, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1983. In 1991, she was appointed Professor in the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies Departments at the University of California, Santa Cruz, despite strong objections from political conservatives, and had a concurrent appointment at Rutgers University in New Jersey. She worked mainly with graduate students and was a faculty mentor for the Research Cluster for the Study of Women of Color in Collaboration and Conflict until her retirement in 2008. Davis's academic interests are feminism, African American studies, critical theory, popular music culture and social consciousness, and the philosophy of punishment, specifically women's jails and prisons. She has published a number of works on racial politics and has continued her political activism, particularly on behalf of prisoners' rights. And most recently she has been associated with the Occupy movement opposing economic and social inequality and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement for Palestinian rights. She is also deeply involved in the prison abolition movement and is a cofounder of Critical Resistance, an organization devoted to ending the U.S. prison system. In 2017, she was an honorary co-chair of the Women's March on Washington opposing the election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency. In early 2019, she again stirred controversy when she was slated to receive the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award from the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement but it was rescinded on January 7 after Birmingham mayor Randall Woodfin and others cited her criticisms of Israel and support for Palestinians. The Institute reversed its decision on January 25.
Davis came out as a lesbian in 1997 in an interview with Out magazine. She stated that while she accepts discussing her sexuality as a political statement, she wants to keep her relationships private. She was awarded the former Soviet Union's Lenin Peace Prize in 1979, an honorary doctorate from the California Institute of Integral Studies in 2016, and in 2020 was named one of Time magazine's Most Influential People.
Georgia Institute of Technology
Davis was joined by Georgia Tech African American Student Union members Shelbe Johnson and Kemuel Russell for a question-and-answer session
Esteemed activist, author, and educator Angela Davis delivered a virtual keynote address at Georgia Tech’s 2021 Black History Month Lecture on Feb. 10. A pioneer in international civil rights and Black feminist movements, Davis has been a prominent figure for decades, working as an academic and authoring more than 10 books on race, class, gender, prison abolition, and the criminalization of marginalized communities.
The lecture was seen by more than 1,700 unique viewers.
“We are thankful to Carter G. Woodson for initiating the observance in 1926 of what was then called Negro History Week,” she opened, referring to the historian and one of the first scholars to study African American history. Woodson became known as the “Father of Black History.” “This week is precisely the week we would be celebrating [Negro History Week] in those days.”
Decades later, Black History Month became, in Davis’ words, “the 28 days that are allocated to us to reflect not only on the contributions of Black people, but on the meaning of the phenomenal collective struggle for freedom that stretches back to the days when the first Africans were forcefully brought to the Americas.”
She was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1944, growing up in the infamous “Dynamite Hill” neighborhood, which gained its name from frequent bombings to drive out middle-class Black residents in the 1950s and 1960s, including the 16 th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four girls in 1963. Davis attended segregated schools but reflected on the resilience her early upbringing and surroundings afforded her, saying, “Even as we boldly challenged racial segregation, I later came to understand what a gift it was to be able to grow up in a community that realized that resistance was at the core of our visions of new futures. We learned how to resist not so much as a choice, not as an extracurricular activity, but rather as a condition of life — as a condition of our collective conviction that we would someday be free.”
After completing high school in New York (via a program that placed Black students from the South into integrated schools in the North), she would go on to study at Brandeis University in Boston the Sorbonne in Paris the University of Frankfurt in Germany and the University of California, San Diego. In 1969, she received a doctorate in philosophy from Humboldt University in what was then East Berlin.
Davis noted the critical role that Black women have played in advancing civil rights in the U.S., beginning with early suffrage movements. “Especially because I am speaking virtually here at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, I want to pay tribute to Stacey Abrams,” the 2018 Georgia Democratic nominee for governor and the first Black woman of a major political party to win a gubernatorial nomination. Through her voting rights advocacy, Abrams is largely credited with helping President Joseph Biden Jr. win the state of Georgia in the 2020 presidential election and for delivering two Democratic Georgia Senate seats in January. “There’s been a long history of Black women not only saving the Black community but saving the country.”
The lecture, sponsored by Institute Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and the Georgia Tech African American Student Union (AASU), included a question-and-answer session moderated by AASU members Shelbe Johnson and Kemuel Russell.
Viewers asked Davis several questions on criminal justice reform. A common theme throughout much of her scholarly work has been the social issues associated with incarceration and the criminalization of communities hardest hit by poverty and racism. She rose to national prominence in 1970 for her arrest — and subsequent acquittal — in a high-profile criminal case for which she spent 18 months in jail and on trial after being placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. In 1997, she helped found Critical Resistance, which aims to dismantle prison systems worldwide.
Her teaching career has taken her to San Francisco State University and the University of California, Berkeley. She also has taught at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Vassar College, Syracuse University, and Stanford University. Most recently she spent 15 years at the University of California Santa Cruz, where she is now a distinguished professor emerita of history of consciousness and of feminist studies.
“I was hired to teach at UCLA in 1969,” she said, but before she could teach, she was fired for being a member of the Communist Party. “When I think back on the campaign to save my job, I had an enormous amount of support, including from white students and white faculty. What I attempted to do was to develop what we might call an intersectional approach. I was at the same time involved in campaigns to free political prisoners — campaigns against racism against prisoners,” Davis continued, while describing herself as a prison abolitionist rather than a prison reformer. “I took the position that people who supported me and my right to teach at UCLA should also support people in prisons who were facing far worse forms of oppression because of their political beliefs.”
Davis will return to teach at UCLA this spring, but noted her slight disdain for the fanfare her return has already brought to the campus. “I don’t want to be accepted. I still want to make trouble – I like John Lewis’ notion of ‘good trouble,’” a nod to the late civil rights giant and Georgia congressman. “So whereas I am going to be teaching at UCLA again, I will continue to critique the institution, call out the racism, point to the heteropatriarchy, and point to their support of capitalist systems.”
Davis paused when asked a final question about how Black people can best handle racial trauma.
“For so long, we haven’t acknowledged racial trauma. I think what is exciting about this current era is that so many people are taking holistic approaches, teaching us how to make sense of these issues. It’s important how you incorporate acknowledgment of people’s trauma into the very work of organizing against racism.
“Since this is the last question, I just want to point out that we can’t let up. We can’t stop. We should recognize that this is the time that the real work is getting done.”