Angela Davis is an activist, educator, scholar, and politician. She was born in 1944 and grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. She went to Elizabeth Irwin High School in New York City after moving there with her mother. Sallye Davis, Angela’s mother, was involved with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Interestingly, many of the teachers at Angela’s high school were assumed to be associated with the Communist Party and may have influenced Angela’s later decision to join. But before that, she became active in the civil rights movement, while in college, after an act of violence on members of her hometown had a personal effect on her. She graduated from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts in 1965 and went on to earn an M.A. from the University of California at San Diego in 1968. Throughout her time in school she became more and more active in the civil rights movement, joining the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1967, and soon after, the Black Panther Party (BPP) itself. She was only a member of the Black Panther Party for a short while until she grew tired of the sexist practices among members. She left in 1968 to join the Che-Lumumba Club instead, which was an all-black faction of the Communist Party in Los Angeles. There, she was able to carry on with her activist intentions without dealing with misogyny.
Her involvement with the Communist Party caused complications in her career shortly after she joined when, in 1969, she was fired from her assistant professor position by the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Her students and faculty friends fought to have her reinstated, but the California Board of Regents did not rehire her the following year. They claimed she was irresponsible and too radical, despite her reputation as an unbiased teacher and her popularity among the students. This incident and her arrest later that year defined her political position within the Black Power Movement.
In the early 1970s, after being removed from the faculty at UCLA, Angela became aware of the poor prison conditions faced by inmates and became active in the movement to improve these conditions. She then started a campaign to free “The Soledad Brothers” who were George Jackson, Fleeta Drumgo, and John Clutchette, all African Americans and all Black Panther Party members. They had been arrested in the late 1960s after allegedly murdering a white prison guard.
In August 1970, Angela Davis became the third woman in history to be placed on the F.B.I’s “10 most-wanted fugitives” list. What placed her there was her involvement with a more dangerous man. An associate of hers, Jonathan P. Jackson, younger brother of George Jackson, took three jurors and Judge Harold Haley from a Marin County courtroom in California and held them hostage in an attempt to free “The Soledad Brothers.” Angela, who was not directly involved in this violent act, was reported to have bought the weapons Jackson used in the attack, as they were registered in her name. She fled to avoid arrest, causing her to be placed on the most-wanted list. On October 13, 1970 the F.B.I found and arrested Davis at a motel in Manhattan on murder and kidnapping charges. She was unarmed and did not resist. A campaign developed to free Angela Davis and after almost two years, she was acquitted on all charges and continued her career as a political activist and professor.
What has she done since?
The governor of California at the time, Ronald Reagan, fought to prevent Angela from teaching at California Universities, but by 1977, she had acquired a position as a lecturer in Women’s and Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University. She remained active in politics and even ran twice for vice president of the United States in 1980 and 1984, while she was still associated with the Communist Party. She was unsuccessful both times. Nonetheless, she continued her role as activist and educator, moving on to be a Professor of History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz. She is also affiliated with the Women’s and Gender Studies Department at Syracuse University as a Distinguished Visiting Professor.
Today, she is still active in the movement to improve prison conditions and is a founder of the Critical Resistance, a national organization dedicated to breaking down the prison industrial complex. Angela is very critical of the industry surrounding prisons and how more resources and attention seem to be allotted for the prisons than for the educational institutions. She fully supports an abolitionist movement to completely dismantle prisons, and instead focus more on the problems people are imprisoned for. Below is a video from a speech Angela gave in Colorado Springs in 2007 in which she discusses the “Prison Industrial Complex.”
Finally, Angela likes to call attention to the gender and race issues surrounding imprisonment. The video below is an excerpt from a speech she gave in 2015 about how the memory of slavery is embodied by the Prison Industrial Complex.