ANGELA DAVIS BIOGRAPHY
Do you remember the popular phrase, from a James Brown song entitled, “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud? How about the four black brothers, from the Olympics, who saluted Black Americans, with clinched fists only to have their medals snatched away? What about the bombing of the 16th Street Church, in Birmingham that left four innocent little black girls dead?
I can fondly remember a time when Flagg Brother shoes and Eleganza Pants donned the bodies, of most young black males, as they sported huge Afros called “bushes”, that were accompanied by peace-sign picks. When the city, of Nashville, Tennessee hosted its annual Black Expo at the Municipal Auditorium, and the general public was allowed to mix and mingle with those in the know. The celebrities, singers, activists, dancers and entertainers of a generation gathering to support the struggle for the generations that followed.
When Jessie Jackson and Operation Push were the voice of hope for civil obedience, which proceeds a time when Black America had witnessed the assassinations, of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Meagar Evers and Malcolm X. I remember the vivid image, of a young intelligent black woman who was sought by the FBI, and listed on their Top Ten Most Wanted List, after the failed prisoner break to free the Soledad Brothers. The woman named, Angela Yvonne Davis.
This is how I first came to know of Angela, and from that moment on I was compelled to follow her story. A story that would lead me to write an autobiography for an African American assignment, that was turned down and considered too radical an approach to erstwhile explain a different aspect of the civil rights movement. My heart felt descriptive approach to express how I felt about being young and black in an America that didn’t consider my voiced opinion, or presence to be known.
The voice that belonged to a young fair-skinned 14 year old southern black girl who struggled on a daily basis to fit in with all races, with prejudice coming from both directions. This is why I remember Angela Yvonne Davis so well. Angela Yvonne Davis the one woman who has totally dedicated her life to the struggle of the oppressed. Regardless, of race, color or national origin, she has championed liberation for all her worldly brothers and sisters! Through the years, she has been a student and teacher, writer and organizer. Most importantly, she has been a fighter for the greater good of all men, women and children of the world.
Angela Yvonne Davis was born in the Birmingham, Alabama, on January 26, 1944. She is the daughter of, B. Frank (businessman and teacher) and Sally E. Davis (teacher). At an early age, Frank and Sally made sure that Angela became educated and made aware of the racial injustices and class oppressions against minorities. They began to home educate her about the struggle that Black people faced in the segregated south. To further strengthen their beliefs against these injustices, they became members of the NAACP and became friends with members of the Communist Party U.S.A. From an early age, Angela was being exposed to many eye-opening experiences during her youth.
During the early 50s and 60s the racial climate in the
city of Birmingham was extremely hostile towards Blacks. When other black
families began to move into houses near and around the Davis’ residence, the
whites around the neighborhood became furious and hostile. Vast measures were
used against Blacks to keep them out of the area.
The most extreme measure was to bomb the houses owned by blacks.
For many years Angela witnessed, in horror, as explosions took place all
around her neighborhood. Eventually
people began to refer to this section of town, as "Dynamite Hill".
As a young black youth, Angela attended the Carrie A.
Tuggle Elementary School in Birmingham, Alabama.
Since all schools were segregated during this period, most of the black
schools had poor facilities and outdated materials and books.
Angela’s parents encouraged her to read anything that she could get her
hands. They also went out of their
way to obtain books for her to read. After
she graduated, from Carrie A. Tuggle she attended Parker Annex Junior High
School. The next stop, of her
formal education training led directly to Birmingham High School.
The hostile environment, of the segregated south began
to affect Angela, as she struggled in desperation to leave the city of
Birmingham. She was a junior in high school, when she first began to plot
several avenues at which to escape. Angela had wanted to be a pediatrician
during this time, so she found two programs she could apply to. The first
program offered at Fisk University, in Nashville, Tennessee was an early
entrance program Her second option was an experimental program developed by the
American Friends Service Committee. This
program was designed to help black students, from the south attend integrated
schools in the northern cities. Angela
applied and was accepted by both programs, but she chose the one that would take
her the farthest north.
Angela attended the Elizabeth Irwin High School in
Greenwich Village, New York, and lived with a white family in Brooklyn. At
Elizabeth Irwin, she became fascinated by the studies of socialism.
She was exposed to several organizations fighting for freedom, of
equality and liberation. With her growing interests in the cause for communism,
she joined a youth organization, which members consisted of parents linked to
the Communist Party U.S.A. For
Angela, the “Communist Manifesto” would become a daily study, of choice.
When she graduated from Elizabeth Irwin, she then moved
to Waltham, Massachusetts, where she attended Brandeis University to further
continue her studies. The
exploration, of socialism and communism afforded her the opportunity to visit
Helsinki, Finland for the eighth “World’s Festival for Youth and Students”
during her freshman year at Brandeis. While there she was able to share her
experiences, with other students from foreign countries.
She also toured the European cities, of Paris, France, London, England
and Geneva, Switzerland. This trip abroad helped Angela to realize a growing
desire to learn more about foreign affairs and cultures. She applied for the
Hamilton College French Program during her junior year, and spent a year to
study in France.
In France, she became involved in many of the protest
rallies and other political movements. One
day she stumbled across something that would change her life forever.
She had managed to obtain a copy, of the “Herald Tribute” where she
came across the story that detailed a bombing in Birmingham, Alabama.
The bombing took place at the 16th Street Baptist church, and
it claimed the lives of four innocent young girls.
As she continued to read the article, Angela realized that the familiar
names of the children were actually childhood acquaintances and family friends.
The incident was linked to the white racist supremacy groups, known as
the Klu Klux Klan and the Nacirema. Now
Angela knew the full extent of the civil rights struggle.
The civil rights movement was in full swing in the United States, and
there was no turning back.
Angela Davis traveled to Germany in 1960, where she
spent two years studying at the Frankfurt School under the tutelage, of the
acclaimed teacher Theodor Adorno. While studying in Germany, she had the
opportunity to travel into Berlin to gain a closer look at socialism first hand.
From the years, 1963 through 1964, Angela attended the University of Paris. She
then returned to the United States to continue her studies at Brandeis
University, in Waltham, Massachusetts. After Angela earned her B.A. (magna cum
laude) in 1965, she flew directly to Germany, where she conducted graduate
research in one of the best philosophy programs in the world.
Although Angela was very proud to be deepening her studies in philosophy,
she felt very isolated. Inwardly, she felt the strong urge to go back to the states,
and become involved in the political active struggles of her people.
Upon returning to the U.S., Angela Davis enrolled at
the University of California at San Diego, where she began to pursue her
master's degree under the guidance of Herbert Marcuse, author of the book, “One
She received her
master’s degree in 1968. It was here in California that Angela would begin her
life-long dedication to fighting in the struggle. Angela helped fight for the
injustices being committed in her community by organizing local group rallies
and fundraisers for other major events. Angela became involved in many
organizations including: the Black Student Union at University of California at
San Diego, and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. She also worked
with the Black Panther Party on educational programs, and the Chicano
As a means to further strengthen her beliefs, in the
practice of Communism, Angela traveled to island of Communist Cuba.
While there she was able to grasp a firmer understanding for the
governmental practice, of Communism. She
worked side by side with sugar cane growers, and watched them prosper, from
their work. They were not exploited by any kind of capitalist greed and
everyone appeared to live in harmony with one another.
She was working on her dissertation for her PHD, when she developed an
ideal to further advance her philosophies.
Angela returned back to the United States and accepted an Assistant
Professor of Philosophy position, at the University of California at Los
Angeles. This position proved to be
one of great challenge, because many people opposed her choice, as its
appointment to the University. Both Angela and her parents found themselves the
victims of daily harassments, from those who opposed their links to Communism
and Socialist affiliations.
Angela was never satisfied with all the work she
performed for various groups. There seemed to be something missing in her
efforts. After a closer reflection
on what she believed to be her own personal truths, she decided to join the
Communist Party U.S.A. in July, of 1968. She
became an active chapter member in the Che-Lumumba Club, of California. That
same year, she also became a member of the Black Panther Party.
Her growing affiliation with radical associates resulted in the loss of
her teaching position (1969-1970), as Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the
University of California at Los Angeles.
fought to keep her position, she became a national public figure.
And despite her qualifications and excellent teaching record, the
California Board of Regents refused to renew her appointment as a philosophy
lecturer in 1970. Even California’s then, Governor Ronald Reagan, exclaimed,
“that she would never work in the state of California again.”
people began to approach her, for help regarding different situations. One of
those people in particular was a young black inmate at a Corrections facility
named Hekima. After further consultation, Angela soon learned first-hand of the
injustices surrounding the corrections systems of California.
During the month, of February of 1970, Angela was
became engrossed in a prison case that involved three young Black brothers in
Soledad prison. While fighting to champion for the cause of the black prisoners,
Angela found herself drawn to a one of the prisoners named George Jackson.
Jackson was one of the Soledad Prison Brothers. After further re-evaluation of
their case, Angela decided to devote most of her free time towards helping the
brothers to beat the bad rap, of false charges that were brought against them.
She enlisted the help of other outside people to help in their defense.
Angela organized the “Soledad Brothers Defense Committee”, and held
organized rallies to educate the outside world on the conditions, of the
prisoners throughout the United States. In
order for things to work, she had to make sure that the case reached a nation
wide appeal. Only then could the
brothers find a legal way to freedom. Angela had never envisioned the incident
that would take place just six months later.
On August 7, 1970, the events at that took place in the
Marin County Hall of Justice Courtroom, Marin County, California, would forever
change Angela’s life. On that
particular day, a prison revolt took place in the courtroom, and by day’s end
four people would be left dead. The
judge, two San Quentin prisoners, and Jonathan Jackson a seventeen-year-old
civilian all lay dead, from the aftermath, of an abortive escape and kidnapping
attempt. The seventeen year old was the little brother of one of the Soledad
Brothers, and a very close friend of Angela's. The guns used in the revolt were
registered to Angela, although she was nowhere near the courthouse. After a
biased investigation, authorities began to point fingers of blame at Angela
Davis. In 1970, Davis became only the third woman in history to appear on the
FBI's “Top Ten Most Wanted List”.
A warrant was issued for her arrest, and a nation wide
manhunt took place to find her. It
was one of the largest of its kind during this time period.
Angela had managed to go underground in Greenwich Village in an effort to
secure her safety, but she was later found and arrested and formerly charged in
New York City.
The state of New York dropped the charges of evading
arrest. They went so far in their game as to take off her Federal handcuffs.
Seconds later they pulled out the California charges of murder and kidnapping,
which had arrived by courier. She was re-arrested, and the state handcuffs were
clapped on her wrists. There was no bail because murder and kidnapping are
capital offenses. The New York charge was only used as a holding action to keep
her in custody. Angela was taken to the New York Women’s House of Detention
were she spent several months before being extradited back to Marin County in
California, then eventually to a jail in San Jose, California. During
this period an international “Free Angela Davis Movement” had grown, and
Davis used the momentum to found the “National Alliance Against Racist and
Political Repression”, which remains active today.
Angela Davis was faced with charges that could send her
to the gas chamber. There was a national cry for the freedom of Angela Davis,
and an intense movement to stop the injustices being brought against her. After
spending eighteen months behind bars, on June 4, 1971, Angela was acquitted of
all charges by an all white jury. After her acquittal on conspiracy charges,
Angela continued to fight for the freedom and liberty of wrongfully held
prisoners throughout the United States.
After her release from prison, in 1971, Angela Davis's
prison essays were published in a collection entitled,
“If They Come in the Morning: Voices of Resistance”. In her essays,
she details her belief in Communist theory, as well as her thoughts on racial
oppression in the United States. In an effort to further document her struggles,
Angela's friends convinced her that she should draft an account of her life in
the 1960s and 1970's. The 1974 result was entitled, “Angela Davis: An
Autobiography”. In 1980 and 1984, Angela Davis ran for Vice President of the
United States on the Communist Party ticket.
Angela Davis's next book entitled, “Women, Race, and
Class” was published seven years later, in 1981. It became an instant feminism
classic, and the text was used for many classes on sexism, racism, and classism.
In 1989, Davis published the first collection of her speeches, entitled,
“Women, Culture, and Politics”. This book documents her speeches from the
years 1983 through 1987.
Title: Professor Emerita of History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies - "Emeriti"
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