Dr. Angela Davis remains one of the historic figures of the Black Power and civil rights movements. Although Dr. Davis transitioned from a revolutionary figure to an academic, she has remained true to her politics and aims for social justice.
Davis was born January 26th, 1944 in Birmingham, Ala. Raised in the deep South, Davis was exposed to racism and segregation early on. By way of her mother, then the President of the Southern Negro Youth Congress, which allegedly had support from the Communist Party, Davis was also taught the ideologies of communism and socialism.
When Davis entered Brandeis University, she pledged herself to fully to communist causes. Studying philosophy under legendary professor Herbert Marcuse, Davis immersed herself in her studies, eventually landing at the University of Paris after switching majors to French. During her time there, the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church happened which affected her personally as she knew the four young girls that were killed. Davis earned a Masters in Philosophy at the University of California San Diego then a doctorate at East Berlin’s Humboldt University.
After joining the philosophy department at UCLA, Davis encountered opposition for her outspoken radicalism. Davis’ alignment with the Black Power movement, particularly the Black Panther Party, was the reason the UCLA board ultimately fired Davis in 1970. Despite a judge ruling the move illegal, then California Gov. Ronald Reagan urged the board to make it happen.
Davis was a friend and rumored love of author George Jackson, an incarcerated Black Panther who co-founded the Black Guerrilla Family and wrote the seminal memoir Soledad Brother. Jackson and two other inmates known as the “Soledad Brothers,” were on trial for the murder of a white prison guard.
Davis became a fugitive when she was accused of purchasing the guns George’s younger brother used in a botched escape attempt in August 1970. Jonathan was trying to free his brother and his co-defendants from a Marin County courtroom but that attempt ended fatally for Jonathan, a Marin County judge and two others. Davis was eventually found and incarcerated. Her case became a cause celebre attracting global support from feminists, activists, entertainers and others.
After serving 18 months, Davis was acquitted in 1972. She returned to academic work after traveling abroad in Cuba and Russia, countries who supported her ideologies. Davis has retired from full-time teaching but is now the UC Santa Cruz professor emerita. She continues to be a popular teacher on the lecture circuit and received a Black Girls Rock! Icon Award in 2011. She was also the subject of the 2012 documentary Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners. directed by Shola Lynch