Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Angela Davis was born on 26 Jan. 1944.
Angela is one of my consistent heroes.  She has been an important influence in my own politics and activism.  I have admired her since her "FBI 10 MOST WANTED" days.


Following are two articles about Angela.
The first is a short biography.
The second is a recap of an interview/presentation.

Angela Davis, the daughter of an automobile mechanic and a school teacher, was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on 26th January, 1944. The area where the family lived became known as Dynamite Hill because of the large number of African American homes bombed by the Ku Klux Klan. Her mother was a civil rights campaigner and had been active in the NAACP before the organization was outlawed in Birmingham.

Davis attended segregated schools in Birmingham before moving to New York with her mother who had decided to study for a M.A. at New York University. Davis attended a progressive school in Greenwich Village where several of the teachers had been blacklisted during the McCarthy Era.

In 1961 Davis went to Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts to study French. Her course included a year at the Sorbonne in Paris. Soon after arriving back in the United States she was reminded of the civil rights struggle that was taking place in Birmingham when four girls that she knew were killed in the Baptist Church Bombing in September, 1963.

After graduating from Brandeis University she spent two years at the faculty of philosophy at Johann Wolfgang von Goethe University in Frankfurt, West Germany before studying under Herbert Marcuse at the University of California. Davis was greatly influenced by Marcuse, especially his idea that it was the duty of the individual to rebel against the system.

In 1967 Davis joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Black Panther Party. The following year she became involved with the American Communist Party.

Davis began working as a lecturer of philosophy at the University of California in Los Angeles. When the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 1970 informed her employers, the California Board of Regents, that Davis was a member of the American Communist Party, they terminated her contract.

Davis was active in the campaign to improve prison conditions. She became particularly interested in the case of George Jackson and W. L. Nolen, two African Americans who had established a chapter of the Black Panthers in California's Soledad Prison. While in California's Soledad Prison Jackson and W. L. Nolen, established a chapter of the Black Panthers. On 13th January 1970, Nolan and two other black prisoners was killed by a prison guard. A few days later the Monterey County Grand Jury ruled that the guard had committed "justifiable homicide."

When a guard was later found murdered, Jackson and two other prisoners, John Cluchette and Fleeta Drumgo, were indicted for his murder. It was claimed that Jackson had sought revenge for the killing of his friend, W. L. Nolan.

On 7th August, 1970, George Jackson's seventeen year old brother, Jonathan, burst into a Marin County courtroom with a machine-gun and after taking Judge Harold Haley as a hostage, demanded that George Jackson, John Cluchette and Fleeta Drumgo, be released from prison. Jonathan Jackson was shot and killed while he was driving away from the courthouse.

Over the next few months Jackson published two books, Letters from Prison and Soledad Brother. On 21st August, 1971, George Jackson was gunned down in the prison yard at San Quentin. He was carrying a 9mm automatic pistol and officials argued he was trying to escape from prison. It was also claimed that the gun had been smuggled into the prison by Davis.

Davis went on the run and the Federal Bureau of Investigation named her as one of its "most wanted criminals". She was arrested two months later in a New York motel but at her trial she was acquitted of all charges. However, because of her militant activities, Ronald Reagan, the Governor of California, urged that Davis should never be allowed to teach in any of the state-supported universities.

Davis worked as a lecturer of African American studies at Claremont College (1975-77) before becoming a lecturer in women's and ethnic studies at San Francisco State University. In 1979 Davis visited the Soviet Union where she was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize and made a honorary professor at Moscow State University. In 1980 and 1984 Davis was the Communist Party's vice-presidential candidate.

The following is a recap of a presentation/interview  Angela gave in 2009



Angela Davis came to KPFA recently to record an interview with Block Report Radio. –

Walking around the University of Virginia’s Academical Village, activist and philosopher Angela Davis remarked that the Lawn rooms seem as cramped as prison cells.

The feeling made her realize that Thomas Jefferson’s architecture compels the observer to think about his legacy, Davis said in her keynote address for the Carter G. Woodson Institute’s conference, “The Problem with Punishment: Race, Inequality and Justice,” held April 16 and 17.

The connection is no mere coincidence. The rooms on the Lawn provide student residents with the privacy to contemplate knowledge, while prison cells confine the prisoner to give him the privacy to penitently contemplate his crime.

The idea of the penitentiary emerged at the same time as the American Revolution, but it has proven a failed experiment in democracy and an institution of racial injustice when one in 100 Americans is behind bars and half of them are Black, she said.

Davis called for a new movement to abolish what she called “the prison-industrial complex” in the U.S., which has become the largest jailer in the world.

Violent people should be dealt with, she said, in the context of the reasons behind the violence and how it is perpetuated. “Simply dumping these people in prison only has the tendency to reproduce more violence,” she said.

The American-style penitentiary system is spreading internationally and having a devastating effect, she said, with prisons serving as receptacles for people who can no longer find a place in their societies.

This may be an auspicious moment in U.S. history to confront the prison crisis, marked in part by President Obama’s election and the economic crisis, she said.

Davis was one of about 30 scholars and others who participated in the multidisciplinary two-day symposium that aimed to contribute serious discussion to the growing national debate on the growth of the prison-industrial complex and racial disparities in the U.S.

In residency at U.Va. for the week, Davis spoke Thursday night to a packed house in Newcomb Hall Ballroom that included hundreds of students – some even traveling from Charlotte, N.C. – as well as faculty, conference participants and community members, including those who identified themselves as ex-convicts and ‘60s radicals during the question-and-answer period following her talk.

Davis and Deborah McDowell, director of the Woodson Institute, both mentioned that Jefferson designed not only his renowned buildings at the University and Monticello, but also an early penitentiary. He contracted architect Benjamin Latrobe to design the first prison in Virginia, with cells for solitary confinement.

Putting offenders in prison was considered a more enlightened idea than the less humane conditions and practices criminals were subjected to around the turn of the 19th century, Davis said.

The example of Jefferson’s legacy, she said, tells us “to be aware of the histories we inhabit.”

The prevalence of corporal punishment for actions that were considered crimes clashed with ideas for the new democracy. Because of slavery, however, the need for corporal punishment persisted, she said.

For example, Davis recounted what ex-slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass told a British audience in London at the time: Although laws were written to sentence a white man to capital punishment only for the crime of murder, there were 70 crimes that could lead a Black man to his death.

“These are the historical roots we see today. The ideas were incorrect, but the early American government saw prisons as progressive, a move away from retribution,” said Davis, who was active in the Black Power Movement and spent time in jail in the early ‘70s, before being acquitted at trial.

“Prison was supposed to allow people to reform themselves. Incarceration turned out to be far more damaging to the psyche … and could not effect rehabilitation,” she said. “We have to undo past damage.

“Racism fuels the prison-industrial complex,” she said. “The vast disproportion of Black people makes it clear. … Black men are criminalized.”

Law enforcement surveillance determines who gets caught and who goes to prison, Davis explained. Many people commit acts that, if discovered, would result in prison sentences, but they are safe because the police don’t target their communities for surveillance.

‘Racism fuels the prison-industrial complex,’ said Angela Davis. ‘The vast disproportion of Black people makes it clear. … Black men are criminalized.’

The assumption, even among some African-Americans, that Black people have a proclivity to criminal activities is part of the daily working of racism.

“The fear of free Black bodies is contained in the systems and strategies that criminalize racism,” Davis said.

She advocated for more productive modes of addressing people who do harm to others and their communities.

‘The fear of free Black bodies is contained in the systems and strategies that criminalize racism,’ Angela Davis said.

“When we think of 2.3 million Americans being in prison on any given day, and all the resources required to sustain the system, why do we not mobilize to change this?” she asked.

It is because of the fear of confronting persistent racism and its history in the U.S., she said. “We are all infected.”

Davis pointed out there are no great disparities in drug use among the range of people and communities. Recently, law officers have shifted their surveillance to rural white people and, oddly enough, that has subjected them to the same form of racism to which Black men are subjected.

Law enforcement surveillance determines who gets caught and who goes to prison, Davis explained. Many people commit acts that, if discovered, would result in prison sentences, but they are safe because the police don’t target their communities for surveillance.

Americans must develop and negotiate social relations to be able to talk about racism without it being so uncomfortable, she said, adding that a justice system must be created that is not based on revenge, but rather is more restorative.

The political climate seems to be more hopeful, she said, lauding Virginia U.S. Sen. Jim Webb’s recent call for prison reform.

Anne Bromley is on the media relations staff at the University of Virginia – her beat: African-American Affairs.
She can be reached at

This story first appeared at UVaToday.

1 comment:

Casimire said...

We need to hold up such excellent people (as Angela)in our own Civil Rights Movement. AIM, The American Indian Movement, Cesar Chavez, and MLK. All excellent examples, surely there are young men and women in the Romani community that have the capacity to attain such greatness?