Angela Davis

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Angela Davis

Date of birth: January 26, 1944 (1944-01-26) (age 65)
Place of birth: Birmingham, Alabama, USA
Movement: Civil Rights Movement, Marxism, Feminism, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, prison-industrial complex abolition, Frankfurt Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund
Major organizations: Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, Critical Resistance, Black Panther Party for Self Defense
Alma mater: Humboldt University of Berlin (GDR), University of California San Diego, University of Frankfurt (magna cum laude), Brandeis University
Influences Herbert Marcuse, Karl Marx, Huey P. Newton, Jean-Paul Sartre

Angela Yvonne Davis (born January 26, 1944, in Birmingham, Alabama) is an American political activist and university professor who was associated with the Black Panther Party for Self Defense and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Davis was also a notable activist during the Civil Rights Movement, and a prominent member and political candidate of the Communist Party USA. Since leaving the Communist Party, she continues to identify herself as a democratic socialist, and is currently a member of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism.

She first achieved nationwide notoriety when a weapon registered in her name was linked to the murder of Judge Harold Haley during an effort to free a black convict who was being tried for the attempted retaliatory murder of a white prison guard who killed three unarmed black inmates. Davis fled underground and was the subject of an intense manhunt. Davis was eventually captured, arrested, tried, and then acquitted in one of the most famous trials in recent U.S. history.

Davis is currently a graduate studies Professor of History of Consciousness at the University of California and Presidential Chair at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She works for racial and gender equality, and for gay rights and prison abolition. She is a popular public speaker, nationally and internationally, as well as a founder of the grassroots prison-industrial complex-abolition organization Critical Resistance.


[edit] Childhood

Davis was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in the midst of Jim Crow laws. Her father was a graduate of St. Augustine's College, a traditionally black college in Raleigh, North Carolina, and was briefly a high school history teacher. After leaving teaching due to the low salary, he owned and operated a service station in the black section of Birmingham. Her mother, also college-educated, was an elementary school teacher with a history of political activism. Despite a modest income, the family purchased a large home in a mixed neighborhood where Angela spent most of her youth. The neighborhood, called "Dynamite Hill" locally, was marked by racial conflict. She was occasionally able to spend time on her uncle's farm and with friends in New York City. [1] Her brother, Ben Davis, played defensive back for the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

During her childhood Davis experienced the humiliations of racial segregation. She was bright and begged to enter school early, attending Carrie A. Tuggle School, a black elementary school in dilapidated facilities; later she attended Parker Annex, a similarly dilapidated annex of Parker High School devoted to middle school education. Davis read voraciously. By her junior year, she applied to and was accepted by an American Friends Service Committee program that placed Black students from the South in integrated schools in the North. She chose to attend the Elisabeth Irwin High School in Greenwich Village, New York City; a small private school favored by the radical community. There, Davis became acquainted with socialism and Communism and was recruited by the Communist youth group, Advance. She also met children of the leaders of the Communist Party, including her lifelong friend, Bettina Aptheker.

[edit] Education and early career

[edit] Undergraduate work at Brandeis University

Upon graduation from high school, Davis was awarded a full scholarship to Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, where she was one of three black students in her freshman class. Initially alienated by the isolation of the campus (at that time she was interested in Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre), she soon made friends with the foreign students. She first encountered Herbert Marcuse at a rally during the Cuban Missile Crisis and later became his student. She worked part-time jobs earning money to spend the summer in Europe and attend the eighth World Festival of Youth and Students in Helsinki. That summer, she spent time in Paris and Switzerland before going on to the Festival in Finland, where she and the other young people were strongly impressed by the energetic Cuban delegation. She returned home to an FBI interview about her attendance at the communist-sponsored festival.[2]

During her second year at Brandeis, she decided to major in French and continued her intensive study of Sartre. Davis was accepted by the Hamilton College Junior Year in France Program and managed to talk Brandeis into extending financial support via her scholarship. Classes were initially at Biarritz and later at the Sorbonne. In Paris, she and other students lived with a French family. It was at Biarritz that she received news of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, committed by the KKK, which deeply affected her as she was personally acquainted with the four young victims. That year, there were two Têt (Vietnamese New Year) festivals in Paris, one sponsored by supporters of the South, the other by supporters of the North. Davis attended the festival sponsored by the North which featured a clown dressed as an American GI.[2]

Nearing completion of her degree in French, Davis realized her major interest was philosophy. She became particularly interested in the ideas of Herbert Marcuse and on her return to Brandeis, she audited his course (required French courses precluded enrollment). Marcuse turned out to be approachable and helpful. Davis began making plans to attend the University of Frankfurt for graduate work in philosophy. In 1965 she graduated magna cum laude, a member of Phi Beta Kappa. [2]

[edit] Frankfurt, Germany

In Germany, having only a stipend of $100 a month to work with, she had great difficulty finding lodging, but after much looking finally found a place with a sympathetic family. Later, she moved with a group of students into a sort of loft in an old factory building. At the University, she had great difficulty following the lectures of philosopher, sociologist and social critic Theodor Adorno but soon found that her fellow students, native German speakers, shared her difficulty. Visiting East Berlin during the May Day celebration, she felt that the East German government was dealing better with the residual effects of fascism than the West Germans. Many of her roommates were active in the Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund (SDS), a radical student group. Davis participated in actions with them, but as things were happening back in the United States—the formation of the Black Panther Party and transformation of SNCC, for example—she was eager to return.

[edit] UC San Diego

Marcuse, in the meantime, had moved to the University of California, San Diego. With the permission of Adorno, she followed him there after two years in Frankfurt. [2]

On her way to California, she stopped off in London to attend a conference on "The Dialectics of Liberation." The small black contingent included Stokely Carmichael and Michael X, a local Black British activist. Davis was wearing her trademark afro hairstyle by then and was thus identifiable as a sympathizer with the Black Power movement. Although moved by Stokely Carmichael's fiery rhetoric, she was disappointed by the Black nationalist sentiments of the black group and their rejection of Communism as a "white man's thing." She held the view that nationalism was a barrier to grappling with the underlying issue, capitalist domination of working people of all races. [3]

Once in San Diego, she earned a master's degree from the University of California, San Diego, returning to Germany for her Ph.D. in Philosophy from the Humboldt University of Berlin, GDR.

[edit] UCLA

Davis worked as an acting assistant professor in the philosophy department at the University of California, Los Angeles, beginning in 1969. At that time, she also was a radical feminist and activist, a member of the Communist Party USA and associated with the Black Panther Party.[4]

In a controversial decision, the Board of Regents of the University of California, urged by then-California Governor Ronald Reagan, fired her from her job in 1969 because of her membership in the Communist Party. She was later rehired after a community uproar.

[edit] Notoriety

Boston Common demonstration, Boston, 1970
Cuban poster saying: "Freedom for Angela Davis," 1971

During the summer of 1970, Davis had become involved in Black Panther efforts to garner support for the imprisoned George Jackson, Fleeta Drumgo, and John Clutchette, known as the "Soledad brothers" (after Soledad Prison, where they were incarcerated). On August 7, George's brother, 17-year-old Jonathan Jackson, along with two others, disrupted trial proceedings in an attempt to assist the escape of friend James McClain from the Marin County Hall of Justice. McClain was on trial for an alleged attempt to stab an officer. In the courthouse, Jonathan Jackson and his accomplices rose from their seats, drew guns, and ordered everyone to freeze. They then led the judge, the prosecuting attorney, and several jurors into a van parked outside. As the hostages entered the van, Jackson and the others were reported to have shouted, "We want the Soledad Brothers freed by 12:30 today!" During the escape attempt, Jackson and accomplice William Christmas were killed in a shootout with police. Judge Harold Haley was killed by his captors with a shotgun taped to his throat inside the van. Prosecutor Gary Thomas was paralyzed by a police bullet during the incident.

A shotgun used by the escapees was registered in Davis's name, implicating her in the escape attempt. The California warrant issued for Davis charged her as an accomplice to conspiracy, kidnapping, and homicide. On August 18, 1970, Davis became the third woman and the 309th individual to appear on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List.[5]

[edit] Detention

Davis fled California and evaded the police for over two months before being captured in New York City. While being held in the Women's Detention Center in New York City, she was initially segregated from the general population, but with the help of her legal team soon obtained a Federal court order to get out of the segregated area.[6]

Davis got on well with other inmates, and with the help of her outside supporters was able to initiate a bail program for indigent prisoners. Her own bail was posted by Rodger McAfee, a farmer from Caruthers, California. Portions of her legal defense expenses were paid for by the Presbyterian Church of the USA. This was controversial within the church.

In 1972, eighteen months after her capture, she was tried and acquitted of all charges; the mere fact that she owned one of the guns used in the crime was not sufficient to establish her responsibility for the plot.[7]

[edit] Following release

Following her release, Davis temporarily relocated to Cuba following in the footsteps of fellow radicals Huey Newton and Stokely Carmichael. Her reception by Afro-Cubans at a mass rally was so enthusiastic that she was reportedly barely able to speak.[8]

[edit] Involvement with the People's Temple

Angela Davis at times supported the Peoples Temple, led by controversial political figure Jim Jones, and she attended Jones' speeches at the Temple's San Francisco Facility.[9] Between 1975 and 1977, like many California political activists, Davis participated in Temple rallies and convened privately with the group's members. Some commentators claim that during one of the Temple's "White Nights" in Jonestown, Guyana in September 1977, Davis addressed 1,000 Temple members via radio relay, urging her support and agreeing with Jones' assessment that "there is a conspiracy designed to destroy the contributions which you have made to the struggle."[10] The full context of these statements has not been clarified.

[edit] Later career

Angela Davis as honorary guest of an Eastern German Youth Festival in 1973

Davis ran for Vice President on the Communist ticket in 1980 and 1984 along with Gus Hall. She has continued a career of activism, and has written several books. A principal focus of her current activism is the state of prisons within the United States. She considers herself an abolitionist, not a "prison reformer," and refers to the United States prison system as the "prison-industrial complex." She argues for abolition of contemporary systems of punishment (the U.S. prison), struggling against the structures of class, race, and gender underlying the mass incarceration of blacks and Latino/as in the U.S. Davis suggests focusing social efforts on education and building engaged communities to solve the various social problems now handled through state punishment.[4]

Davis was one of the primary founders of Critical Resistance, a national grassroots organization dedicated to building a movement to abolish the prison-industrial complex.

Angela Davis after a speaking engagement at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania in October 2006.

She has lectured at San Francisco State University, Stanford University, Bryn Mawr College and other schools.[4] She is currently the Presidential Chair and Professor with the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz and director of the Feminist Studies department.[4] She states that in her teaching, which is mostly at the graduate level, she concentrates more on posing questions which encourage development of critical thinking than on imparting knowledge.[4] In 1997, she came out as a lesbian in Out magazine. [11]

Davis spoke out against the 1995 Million Man March, arguing that the exclusion of women from this event necessarily promoted male chauvinism and that the organizers, including Louis Farrakhan, preferred women to take subordinate roles in society. In response to the March, and together with Kimberlé Crenshaw and others, she formed the African American Agenda 2000, a small alliance of Black feminists.

Davis is no longer a member of the Communist Party, leaving to help found the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, which broke from the CPUSA due to the latter body's support of the Soviet coup attempt of 1991 and the communist parties of the Warsaw Pact.[12] She remains on the Advisory Board of the Committees.[13] Davis points to Cuba as an example of a country which successfully addresses social and economic problems. In her view democracy and socialism are more compatible than democracy and capitalism.[4]

In recent years, Angela Davis has spoken out against the death penalty. At the University of California, Santa Cruz, she participated in a 2004 panel concerning Kevin Cooper. She also spoke in defense of Stanley "Tookie" Williams on another panel in 2005. Davis remains a prominent figure in the struggle against the death penalty in California.

She was the commencement speaker at Grinnell College in May, 2007. On October 27, Davis was the keynote speaker at the 5th annual Practical Activism Conference at UC Santa Cruz. [14]

On February 8, 2008, she spoke on the campus of Howard University on behalf of the invitation of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. Alpha Chapter. On February 24, 2008, she was featured as the closing keynote speaker for the 2008 Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference. On April 14, 2008, she spoke at The College of Charleston as a guest of the Women's and Gender Studies Program. On January 23, 2009, she was the keynote speaker at the Martin Luther King Commemorative Celebration on the campus of Louisiana State University.

[edit] Cultural references

  • The first of the three tracks on Herbie Hancock's 1970 album Mwandishi pays tribute to Angela Davis. The track itself is titled Ostinato (Suite for Angela).
  • Cuban singer-songwriter Pablo Milanes wrote "Cancion para Angela Davis" in tribute.
  • The 1976 film Network features a parody of her in its character Laureen Hobbs.
  • Performance artist Vaginal Davis, active since the early 1970s, took her name as an homage to Angela Davis.
  • The Swedish artist Turid starts the song "Visa om imperialismens taktik" with the words "Åh, Angela Davis, det var natt när dom hämtade dej..." (Oh, Angela Davis, they came for you in the night...)
  • Davis appears in the 2006 documentary film The U.S. vs. John Lennon in both the archive footage and in interview segments as Dr. Angela Davis.
  • In the popular 1999 German film Sonnenallee, members of a communist youth organization in the GDR write letters in support of Davis during her imprisonment.
  • In the 2008 film The Bank Job, as the gang flee from the robbery they pass a poster with the slogan "Free Angela Davis."

[edit] Angela Davis in Russian culture

Thousands of Soviet citizens signed letters demanding the release of Angela Davis, and in Russian the phrase "Freedom to Angela Davis!" (Russian: Свободу Анджеле Дэвис !) became a synonym for fighting against certain problems abroad[citation needed]. In 1977 Angela Davis was awarded Lenin Peace Prize (международная Ленинская премия мира) by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. Also an Afro haircut sometimes in Russian is called "Angela Davis"[citation needed]. In 2003 the Russian rock band "Neprikasaemye" (The Untouchables) recorded a song called "Freedom to Angela Davis!" (Свободу Анджеле Дэвис !), referring both to an "Angela Davis" haircut and her imprisonment, with the widely quoted refrain "Дайте ей свободу, суки !" (Free her, bastards ! (literally -Give her freedom, bitches)).

In a speech he delivered to the AFL-CIO on July 9, 1975 in New York City, Russian dissident and Nobel Laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reportedly criticized Davis's support of various socialist projects around the world, given her stark opposal to the U.S. prison system. In particular, Solzhenitsyn claimed that a group of Czech prisoners appealed to Angela Davis for support, which he further claims she refused to offer.[15] Angela Davis has flatly denied that any of this happened.[16]

[edit] Bibliography

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Davis, Angela Yvonne (March 1989). "Rocks". 'Angela Davis: An Autobiography'. New York City: International Publishers. ISBN 0717-80667-7. 
  2. ^ a b c d Davis, Angela Yvonne (March 1989). "Waters". 'Angela Davis: An Autobiography'. New York City: International Publishers. ISBN 0717-80667-7. 
  3. ^ Davis, Angela Yvonne (March 1989). "Flames". 'Angela Davis: An Autobiography'. New York City: International Publishers. ISBN 0717-80667-7. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Interview with Angela Davis". BookTV. 2004-10-03.
  5. ^ __BookTextView/135;pt=125 "Biography" (HTML). Davis (Angela) Legal Defense Collection, 1970-1972. __BookTextView/135;pt=125. Retrieved on 2007-06-21. 
  6. ^ Davis, Angela Yvonne (March 1989). "Nets". 'Angela Davis: An Autobiography'. New York City: International Publishers. ISBN 0717-80667-7. 
  7. ^ Caldwell, Earl. "Angela Davis Acquitted on All Charges" The New York Times. June 5, 1972. Retrieved on 2008-07-02.
  8. ^ Gott, Richard (2004). 'Cuba: A New History'. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. pp. 230. ISBN 0-300-10411-1. 
  9. ^ Reiterman, Tim and John Jacobs. Raven: The Untold Story of Reverend Jim Jones and His People. Dutton, 1982. ISBN 0-525-24136-1. p. 266.
  10. ^ Reiterman, Tim and John Jacobs. Raven: The Untold Story of Reverend Jim Jones and His People. Dutton, 1982. ISBN 0-525-24136-1. 369.
  11. ^ "Angela Davis" (HTML). Notable name database. Retrieved on 2007-07-21. 
  12. ^ "(title unknown)". Corresponder (Committees of Correspondence). 1992. 
  13. ^ "Advisory board" (HTML). Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism website. Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. 2007-07-20. Retrieved on 2007-07-20. 
  14. ^ Santa Cruz Indymedia coverage of the 5th annual Practical Activism Conference at UC Santa Cruz.
  15. ^ Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr (October 1976). Warning to the West. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 60–61. ISBN 0374513341. 
  16. ^ Angela Davis, Q&A after a speech, "Engaging Diversity on Campus: The Curriculum and the Faculty," East Stroudsburg University, Pennsylvania, 10/15/2006.

[edit] External links

About Angela Davis

Documents from the Women's Liberation Movement

Related Links

Party political offices
Preceded by
Jarvis Tyner
Communist Party USA Vice Presidential candidate
1980 (lost), 1984 (lost)
Succeeded by
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