She’s a force!
Angela Yvonne Davis was born on January 26, 1944, in Birmingham, Alabama, Biography reports. She grew up in Birmingham’s Dynamite Hill, a moniker given to the middle-class neighborhood because of the prevalence of African-American home bombings at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan. Davis’ father was a service station owner, and her mother Sallye was an educator and active member of the NAACP. Like many teens during those times, Davis became politicized at an early age, organizing interracial study groups as a teen that were later broken up by the police. She also was friends with some of the Black girls killed in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing.
She went on to attend Brandeis University in Massachusetts, studying philosophy under Marxist professor Herbert Marcuse. While attending graduate school at the University of California, Davis became known as an active member of the Black Panther Party and the Che-Lumumba Club, an all-Black branch of the Communist Party. Davis regularly ran into conflict because of her affiliation with the Communist Party. As a professor at the University of California, the school’s administration fired her because of her association with communism, causing Davis to have to take the matter to court. When her contract expired in 1970, she left.
Davis would become a fierce political activist, putting her body on the line countless times over the decades for what she believed in. She not only fought against the racism of the times during the 60s and 70s, she continues her work as a resounding voice on injustices across the globe today. Davis is the author of several books, all of which you should read, 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).
While Davis continues her scholarly work as an author and avid lecturer, there are still some people who may not know her full superhero origin story or those who don’t understand the critical work she’s still laboring in on our behalf. To help you out, here are 3 reasons you should learn more about Angela Davis, courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
She is one of the original freedom fighters.
During the 1970s, Davis became a vocal supporter of three inmates at Soledad Prison in California. The three men, known as the Soledad Brothers despite having no relation, were John W. Clutchette, Fleeta Drumgo, and George Lester Jackson. The men were accused of killing a prison guard after several Black inmates were killed during another fight involving a separate guard. Despite the accusation, many believed the prisoners were being falsely accused and railroaded as a result of the political work being done within the prison.
During Jackson’s trial in August 1970, an escape attempt was made, and multiple people were killed. Davis was subsequently accused of taking part in the event and charged with murder. Prosecutors at the time dredged up evidence showing that the guns were registered to Davis, spinning a narrative of a crossed lover’s tale between Davis and Jackson. The allegations were later proved to be untrue, but Davis was forced into hiding and placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. Davis ended up spending eighteen months in jail, which spurred a national “Free Angela Davis” campaign and the Angela Davis Legal Defense Committee. In support of Davis, many artists spoke out; John Lennon and Yoko Ono writing “Angela,” and the Rolling Stones writing their song “Sweet Black Angel.”
Davis has been an avid supporter of women’s rights.
In 1983, Davis published the book Women, Race, and Class, a collection of 13 essays that examines the history of the struggle for equal rights for women, particularly Black and working-class women. In that book, Davis outlined the intersectionality between class, race, and gender.
In 1997, Davis came out during an interview as a lesbian, adding to the discourse around issues pertinent to the LGBTQ+ community. As a professor, Davis regularly taught courses examining the oppression of the Black, women, and LGBTQ+ communities. It is Davis’ voice and work that serves as the influence for much of the scholarly work today on anti-racist feminism.
A summary statement on the book Women, Race, and Class, from publisher Penguin Random House reads, “Angela Davis provides a powerful history of the social and political influence of whiteness and elitism in feminism, from abolitionist days to the present, and demonstrates how the racist and classist biases of its leaders inevitably hampered any collective ambitions. While Black women were aided by some activists like Sarah and Angelina Grimke and the suffrage cause found unwavering support in Frederick Douglass, many women played on the fears of white supremacists for political gain rather than take an intersectional approach to liberation. Here, Davis not only contextualizes the legacy and pitfalls of civil and women’s rights activists, but also discusses Communist women, the murder of Emmitt Till, and Margaret Sanger’s racism. Davis shows readers how the inequalities between Black and white women influence the contemporary issues of rape, reproductive freedom, housework, and childcare in this bold and indispensable work.”
In 2017, Davis served as a featured speaker and honorary co-chair at the Women’s March on Washington.
She is an advocate for prison reform.
Davis is the founder of Critical Resistance, a national organization working to dismantle the prison-industrial complex. A statement on the website describes the organization’s definition of the prison industrial complex and its commitment to abolishing it. In 2018, Critical Resistance celebrated 20 years of advocacy.
The prison industrial complex (PIC) is a term used to describe the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social, and political problems. Here’s more from the site’s statement:
“Through its reach and impact, the PIC helps and maintains the authority of people who get their power through racial, economic, and other privileges. There are many ways this power is collected and maintained through the PIC, including creating mass media images that keep alive stereotypes of people of color, poor people, queer people, immigrants, youth, and other oppressed communities as criminal, delinquent, or deviant. This power is also maintained by earning huge profits for private companies that deal with prisons and police forces; helping earn political gains for “tough on crime” politicians; increasing the influence of prison guard and police unions; and eliminating social and political dissent by oppressed communities that make demands for self-determination and reorganization of power in the US.
PIC abolition is a political vision with the goal of eliminating imprisonment, policing, and surveillance and creating lasting alternatives to punishment and imprisonment.
From where we are now, sometimes we can’t really imagine what abolition is going to look like. Abolition isn’t just about getting rid of buildings full of cages. It’s also about undoing the society we live in because the PIC both feeds on and maintains oppression and inequalities through punishment, violence, and controlling millions of people. Because the PIC is not an isolated system, abolition is a broad strategy. An abolitionist vision means that we must build models today that can represent how we want to live in the future. It means developing practical strategies for taking small steps that move us toward making our dreams real and that lead us all to believe that things really could be different. It means living this vision in our daily lives.
Abolition is both a practical organizing tool and a long-term goal.”
Thank you for all of your work Ms. Davis. Because of you, we can.
3 good reasons you should learn more about Angela Davis. Photo Courtesy of Djeneba Aduayom/TIME