Angela Davis (1944 – ) Political Activist, Author, and Scholar

“In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist,” unmitigated words uttered by political activist, master scholar, and author Angela Davis. She is a professor emerita at the University of California, who studied at Sorbonne.  She was known as a radical feminist, a member of the Communist Party USA, and an affiliate of the Black Panther Party, Los Angeles Chapter.  She has authored over ten books on class, feminism, and the U.S. prison system.

Angela Yvonne Davis was born on January 26, 1944 in Birmingham Alabama. Her father, B. Frank Davis, was a service station owner and a former teacher. Her mother, Sallye Bell Davis, was a teacher and a member of the NAACP.  Angela was the eldest of 3 siblings; Ben,  Reginald, and Fania.

Like most black families that lived in the segregated south during the Jim Crow era, the Davis family were not exempt from experiencing the cruel injustices that plagued their territory.  Angela grow up in a segregated, middle class neighborhood, which was nicknamed “Dynamite Hill” for the multiple bombings perpetuated by the Klu Klux Klan.  In fact, Angela had personally known the four girls who were killed in the infamous Birmingham church bombing. She later became involved with her family in civil rights demonstrations.

Angela attended Birmingham public schools until 1959. She spent some time in New York City, where her mother was earning a master’s degree during summer breaks from teaching. During this time,  she attended Elizabeth Irwin High School in New York City for two years.  She excelled as a student and matriculated to Brandeis University in 1965, graduating magna cum laude, with two years of study at the Sorbonne, University of Paris. She later studied philosophy in Germany at the University of Frankfurt for two years, then received an M.A. from the University of California at San Diego in 1968. Her doctoral study took place from 1968 to 1969.

Beginning in 1969, Davis was an acting assistant professor in the philosophy department at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Although both Princeton and Swarthmore had tried to recruit her, she opted for UCLA because of its urban location. She was part of an all-black communist group called the Che-Lumumba Club, and through that group she began to organize public protests.

Later that year, the Board of Regents fired Davis from her $10,000-a-year post because of her membership in the Communist Party.  This decision was urged on by California Governor Ronald Reagan. The judge ruled that the Regents could not fire Davis solely because of her affiliation with the Communist Party, and she resumed her post. The following year, the Regents fired Angela again on June 20, 1970, for the “inflammatory language” she had used in four different speeches.  The American Association of University Professors censured the Board for this action.

Outside of academia, 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. It was rumored that she was romantically involved with George Jackson.

During Jackson’s trial in 1970, an escape attempt was made which lead to the shooting deaths of four people killed in the courtroom. This resulted in Angela being charged with three capital felonies, such as kidnapping, including conspiracy to murder. She had purchased the firearms used in the armed courtroom takeover. After spending roughly 18 months in jail, Angela was acquitted in June 1972.

She continued both her academic work and her domestic activism. In 1980, she was the professor of ethnic studies at San Francisco State University. Much of her work focused on the abolition of prisons. That same year, she ran for U.S. vice president on the unsuccessful Communist Party ticket.

In 1991, amid the dissolution of the Soviet Union,  Angela left the party and joined the breakaway Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. Also in 1991, she joined the feminist studies department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she became department director. In 1997 she co-founded Critical Resistance, an organization working to abolish the prison–industrial complex.

When Angela retired from UCSC in 2008, she was named Professor Emerita. In the years since, she has continued her work for prison abolition, women’s rights, and racial justice. Davis has taught at UCLA and elsewhere as a visiting professor, committed to the importance of “liberating minds as well as liberating society.”

In 2017 Davis was a featured speaker and made honorary co-chair at the Women’s March on Washington after Donald Trump’s inauguration.

 

Quotes:

“Radical simply means “grasping things at the root.”

“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”

“Revolution is a serious thing, the most serious thing about a revolutionary’s life. When one commits oneself to the struggle, it must be for a lifetime.”

“The idea of freedom is inspiring. But what does it mean? If you are free in a political sense but have no food, what’s that? The freedom to starve?”

“We have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society.”

“If they come for me in the morning, they will come for you in the night.”

“You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.”

“You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.”

“We know the road to freedom has always been stalked by death.”

“Sometimes we have to do the work even though we don’t yet see a glimmer on the horizon that it’s actually going to be possible.”

“I try never to take myself for granted as somebody who should be out there speaking. Rather, I’m doing it only because I feel there’s something important that needs to be conveyed.”

“In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”

“If we do not know how to meaningfully talk about racism, our actions will move in misleading directions.”

“I don’t think we have any alternative other than remaining optimistic. Optimism is an absolute necessity, even if it’s only optimism of the will, as Gramsci said, and pessimism of the intellect.”

 

Recreate Model: Alexia A Guidry

ReCreate Photographer: Jasmine Y. Williams

 

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