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Angela Davis

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Angela Davis

Angela Yvonne Davis (born January 26, 1944) is an African American radical activist, primarily working for racial and gender equity and for prison abolition.

Contents

Childhood

Angela was born in 1944 in Birmingham, Alabama in the days of Jim Crow. Her father, a graduate of St. Augustine's College, a traditional black college in Raleigh, North Carolina, was briefly a high school history teacher. Leaving teaching due to the low salary, he owned and operated a service station in the Black section of Birmingham. Her mother, also college educated, was an elementary school teacher with a history of political activism. Using their modest income the family purchased a large home in a mixed neighborhood where Angela spent most of her youth. The neighborhood, called locally "Dynamite Hill," was marked by racial conflict. She was occasionally able to spend time on her uncle's farm and with friends in New York City.

During her childhood Angela experienced the humiliations of racial segregation. She was bright and begged to enter school early, attending Carrie A. Tuggle School, a Black elementary school in dilapidated facilities and later Parker Annex, a similarly delapidated annex of Parker High School devoted to middle school education. Angela read voraciously. By her junior year, at 14, she applied for and was accepted to both an early admission program at Fisk University and a program of the American Friends Service Committee which placed Black students from the South in integrated schools in the north. She wavered between the two, finally choosing to attend high school at Elizabeth Irwin High School, also known as the Little Red School House, in Greenwich Village in New York City. This was a small private school favored by the radical community. There Angela was exposed to study of socialism and communism and recruited to the Communist youth group, Advance, where she became acquainted with children of the leaders of the Communist Party including her lifelong friend, Bettina Aptheker.

Education and early career

Upon graduation from high school, Davis was awarded a full scholarship to Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts where she was one of three Black students in her freshman class. Initially alienated by the isolation of the campus (at that time she was into Camus and Sartre), she soon made friends with the foreign students on campus. She first encountered Herbert Marcuse at a rally during the Cuban Missile Crisis and later became his student. She worked at part-time jobs earning money to spend her summer in Europe and attend the eighth World Festival for Youth and Students in Helsinki. That summer she spent time in Paris and Switzerland before going on to the Festival in Finland where she and the other young people were strongly impressed by the energetic Cuban delegation. She returned home to an FBI interview about her attendance at the Festival which the government considered communist sponsored.

During her second year she decided to major in French and continued her intensive study of Sartre. Malcolm X appeared at the Brandeis campus that year and strongly castigated his mostly White audience. Davis was accepted for the Hamilton College Junior Year in France Program and managed to talk Brandeis into extending support with her scholarship to cover the expenses. Classes were initially at Biarritz and later at the Sorbonne. In Paris she lived together with other students with a French family. It was at Biarritz that she received news of the Birmingham church bombing which deeply affected her as she was personally acquainted with the four young victims. Again, as at Brandeis, she was socially isolated; all the other students were Whites who could offer sympathy but did not share her grief. That year President Kennedy was assassinated and there were two Têt, Vietnamese New Year, festivals in Paris, one sponsored by supporters of the South, one by supporters of the North. Davis attended the festival sponsored by the North which featured a clown dressed as an American GI.

Nearing completion of her degree in French language, she realized her major interest was philosophy. Herbert Marcuse had been at the Sorbonne the year before she attended and there was a good buzz about him. On return to Brandeis she audited his course (required French courses precluded enrollment). Marcuse turned out to be approachable and helpful; Davis began making plans to attend the University of Frankfurt for graduate work in philosophy. In 1965 she graduated, magna cum laude, a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

In Germany, having only a stipend of $100 a month to work with and facing the unreconstructed social attitudes of the West Germans, she had great difficulty finding lodging, but after much looking finally found a place with a sympathetic family, later moving with a group of students into a sort of loft in an old factory building. At the University, weak in German, she had great difficulty following the lectures of Adorno but soon found that her fellow students, native Germans, shared her difficulty. Visiting East Berlin during the May Day celebration she felt that the East German government was dealing better with the residual effects of fascism than the West Germans. Many of her room-mates were active in the German Socialist Student League, SDS, a radical student group. Davis participated in actions with them; but things were happening back in the United States, for example, the Black Panther Party, and she was eager to get back. Marcuse in the meantime had moved to the University of California at San Diego. With the permission of Adorno she followed him there after two years in Frankfurt.

On her way to California she stopped off in London to attend a conference centered on the theme of "The Dialectics of Liberation." The small Black contingent included Stokely Carmichael and Michael X a local West Indian activist. Davis was sporting her trademark natural hairstyle by then and was thus identifiable as a sympathizer with the Black Power movement. Although moved by Stokely Carmichael's fiery rhetoric, she was disappointed by the Black nationalist sentiments of the Black contingent and their rejection of communism as a "white man's thing." She held the view that nationalism was a barrier to grappling with the underlying issue, capitalist domination of working people of all races.

Once in San Diego, she earned a masters degree from the University of California, San Diego returning to Germany for her Ph.D. in Philosophy from the Humboldt University of Berlin, GDR Davis worked as a philosophy lecturer at the University of California, Los Angeles during the 1960s, during which time she also was a radical feminist and activist, a member of the Communist Party USA and associated with the Black Panther Party. In a controversial decision, the University of California fired her from her job in 1969 because of her membership in the Communist Party. She was later rehired after community uproar over the decision. Davis ran for Vice President on the Communist ticket in 1980 and 1984 along with Gus Hall.

Notoriety

In 1970 Davis became the third woman to appear on the FBI's Most Wanted List when she was charged with conspiracy, kidnapping, and homicide, due to her alleged participation in an escape attempt from Marin County Hall of Justice. She evaded the police for two months before being captured, tried, and acquitted of all charges eighteen months later. Allegedly, Johnathan Jackson, younger brother of prison inmate and cause celebre, George Jackson, had stolen the guns from Angela's home to use in the escape attempt.While being held in the Women's Detention Center in New York City, Davis got on well with other inmates and with the help of her outside supporters was able to mobilize the prisoners, in particular, helping to initiate a bail program for indigent prisoners. Initially she was segregated from the general population in deplorable conditions, but with the help of her excellent legal team was able in short order obtain a Federal court order squashing that practice. The excuse was that prisoners might be hostile to her, but, in fact, most of the other prisoners were friendly and supportive. In 1972, she was exonerated on all charges.

In 1972 John Lennon and Yoko Ono released the song "Angela" about her and Rolling Stones released "Sweet Black Angel" which chronicled her legal problems and agitated for her release.

Later career

She has continued a career of activism, and has written several books. A principal focus of her current activism is the state of prisons within the United States. She considers herself an abolitionist, not a "prison reformer," and refers to the United States prison system as the "prison-industrial complex." Her solutions include abolishing prisons and addressing the class, race, and gender factors that have led to large numbers of blacks and Latinos being incarcerated. She has lectured at San Francisco State University, Stanford University and other schools. She is currently a UC Presidential Chair and professor with the History of Consciousness department at the University of California, Santa Cruz and director of the Women's studies department. She states that in her teaching, which is mostly at the graduate level, she concentrates more on posing questions which encourage development of critical thinking than on imparting knowledge.

Davis unsuccessfully rallied against the 1995 Million Man March, arguing that the exclusion of women from this event necessarily promoted male chauvinism, and that the organizers of the event, including Louis Farrakhan, preferred women to take subordinate roles in society. Together with Kimberlé Crenshaw and others she formed the African American Agenda 2000, a small alliance of Black feminists in response to the March's growing popularity. Her actions arguably injured her previously strong popularity among African Americans. She identifies herself as a lesbian.

Although Dr. Davis is no longer a member of the Communist Party she points to Cuba as an example of a country which successfully addresses social and economic problems. In her view democracy and socialism are more compatible than democracy and capitalism. She makes no attempt to explain or excuse the Communist past but looks toward future solutions.

Dr. Davis, who lives in Oakland, California, can be reached by mail in care of her publisher, Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013. She can also be reached by email but is unable to respond to many emails due to the large volume.

Quote

"Progressive art can assist people to learn not only about the objective forces at work in the society in which they live, but also about the intensely social character of their interior lives. Ultimately, it can propel people toward social emancipation."
"My sisters, if we cannot agree on the simple fact that the white man is dragging us by our heels to the deep dark pits of hell, what can we agree on? We must unite against the great white demon. Together we may overpower white America and bring rise to Black Power!

List of books

eo:Angela DAVIS

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