Who Is Angela Davis?
Angela Davis became a master scholar who studied at the Sorbonne. She joined the U.S. Communist Party and was jailed for charges related to a prison outbreak, though ultimately cleared. Known for books like Women, Race & Class, she has worked as a professor and activist who advocates gender equity, prison reform and alliances across color lines.
Davis was born on January 26, 1944, in Birmingham, Alabama. She grew up in a middle-class neighborhood dubbed "Dynamite Hill," due to many of the African American homes in the area that were bombed by the Ku Klux Klan. Davis' father, Frank, owned a service station, while her mother, Sallye, taught elementary school and was an active member of the NAACP. Sallye would later pursue her master's degree at NYU and Davis would accompany her there as a teenager.
Davis is best known as a radical African American educator and activist for civil rights and other social issues. She knew about racial prejudice from her experiences with discrimination growing up in Alabama. As a teenager, Davis organized interracial study groups, which were broken up by the police. She also knew some of the four African American girls killed in the Birmingham church bombing of 1963.
Education, The Black Panthers and Communism
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 was associated with several groups including the Black Panthers. But she spent most of her time working with the Che-Lumumba Club, which was an all-Black branch of the Communist Party.
Hired to teach at the University of California, Los Angeles, 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.
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. Some thought these prisoners were being used as scapegoats because of the political work within the prison.
Charged With Murder
During Jackson's trial in August 1970, an escape attempt was made and several people in the courtroom were killed. Davis was brought up on several charges, including murder, for her alleged part in the event. 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. After spending roughly 18 months in jail, Davis was acquitted in June 1972.
After spending time traveling and lecturing, Davis returned to teaching. She was a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she taught courses on the history of consciousness, retiring in 2008.
Davis has continued to lecture at many prestigious universities, discussing issues regarding race, the criminal justice system and women's rights.
In 2017, Davis was a featured speaker and made an honorary co-chair at the Women's March on Washington after Donald Trump's inauguration.
In addition to being a co-founder of Critical Resistance, an organization that aims to end the prison industrial complex, Davis is the author of several books, including Angela Davis: An Autobiography (1974), Women, Race, and Class (1980), Women, Culture and Politics (1989), Are Prisons Obsolete? (2003), Abolition Democracy (2005), and The Meaning of Freedom (2012).
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