Angela Davis (1944- ) is a famous black American revolutionary, a University of California professor, a “soldier of freedom”, a fighter for equality and the country’s best-known communist. She became world famous in 1971 when she was in prison and people in both America and the Soviet Union protested to “Free Angela”.
Her big Afro and putting her fist in the air are one of those images that sticks in your mind. You see memories of it in Erykah Badu and in the New Yorker cover with Michelle Obama shown as a black revolutionary.
In 1969 Ronald Reagan, then the governor of California, had her fired from UCLA for being a communist. A year later her gun was used to kill a judge. That put her on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. She went into hiding and was on the run across the country. She made the cover of Life magazine. After a two-month manhunt she was caught in New York City and thrown into prison. She was widely seen as a political prisoner.
After 16 months in prison and protests round the world, all charges against her were dropped and she walked free. She went to the Soviet Union where she received a hero’s welcome. Then she wrote her life story, edited by Toni Morrison.
Since then she has been teaching, speaking and writing, particularly against American prisons, but more generally about race and women’s rights.
For her Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are no surprise.
A fourth of all prisoners in the world are in American prisons. Prisons have become America’s way of dealing with its freed slaves, otherwise known as black people. Selling crack will put you in prison, but selling Prozac will not. America now has five times more people in prison than it did 30 years ago. It has nothing to do with the crime rate.
Just like Condoleezza Rice, she grew up in the black middle-class of Birmingham, Alabama in the days of Jim Crow. She lived in an all-black neighbourhood, near a street where everyone on the other side was white. Later she came to New York and went to high school there.
She went on to study philosophy, studying under Marcuse. She even studied in Paris and Germany for a while. Overseas she met students from Africa, which made her see that what blacks in America face is worldwide. Then in 1963, when the four black girls were killed in the church bombing in Birmingham, she knew she had to come back.
She joined SNCC, then the Black Panthers and then, after Martin Luther King was killed, the Communist Party. Like Paul Robeson, she saw communism as the best answer to racism.
Being black in America meant she could not accept society the way it is. To do so would mean saying she is not fully human. So working to change society seems natural to her.
Unlike Will Smith and John McWhorter, she believes racism is still alive and well. She says it hides behind a show of colour-blindness.
- Angela Davis: An Autobiography
- Michelle Obama’s Afro
- Jim Crow
- Condoleezza Rice
- Martin Luther King, Jr
- Paul Robeson
- black women I most admire
- philosophy she studied: