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Davis, Angela

movement california black university

Angela Y. Davis was born on January 26, 1944, in Birmingham, Alabama. An activist and scholar, Davis was appointed a professor in the History of Consciousness Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1991. She is one of the main architects of a global movement to abolish what she has called the “prison-industrial complex” in the United States and elsewhere in the world. Davis has campaigned against all forms of racism since the mid-1960s, publishing numerous articles and essays in both the popular media and scholarly journals, as well as a half dozen books. A sensational trial in which she was charged by the state of California with murder and kidnapping because of her prominence in a movement for prisoners’ rights resulted in her acquittal on all charges in June 1972. As a result of the movement to “Free Angela Davis,” she became an icon of revolutionary movements and national liberation struggles worldwide.

The oldest of four children, Davis’s mother was Sallye B. Davis, an elementary school teacher, and her father, B. Frank Davis, was the owner of a local service station in Birmingham. At the age of four, her family moved to an all-white section of town, which became known as Dynamite Hill because of the number of racist-inspired bombings undertaken to drive out African-American families. Her family however, persevered. Davis went on to attend Elizabeth Irwin High School in New York City, and she graduated from Brandeis University in 1965 with a degree in French literature. After two years studying abroad, Davis returned to the United States and resumed her graduate studies at the University of California, San Diego, under the tutelage of the Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse. She joined the U.S. Communist Party and worked closely with the Black Panther Party in the late 1960s, while also writing her dissertation and teaching in the Philosophy Department at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Her academic career was interrupted by her imprisonment and trial. Davis was charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy to commit both following an attempted escape by prisoners from San Quentin on August 7, 1970. The escape attempt was organized by Jonathan Jackson, the 17-year old brother of George Jackson, one of the Soledad Brothers. Davis knew Jonathan and was involved in the Soledad Brothers Defense Committee. In the attempted escape Jonathan and two prisoners were killed by San Quentin guards, and a judge was also killed. Another prisoner, Ruchell Magee, was badly wounded, and so was a woman juror. Davis was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list and was eventually arrested in New York City. She was then extradited to California to stand trial. Her case galvanized a global movement for her freedom, and catapulted her into international fame. Whereas the President of the United States, Richard Nixon, branded her “a terrorist,” the “Free Angela” movement insisted upon her innocence and showed the ways in which a racist criminal justice system was deployed to seek to silence Davis for her radical activism. Her trial began on February 28, 1972, in San Jose, California, and ended in an acquittal on all counts on June 4, 1972. Following her acquittal, she resumed her scholarly work and helped to launch the National Alliance against Racist and Political Repression. After some thirty years campaigning to free individual prisoners, Davis helped to initiate a conference at the University of California, Berkeley, in September 2002. This conference launched a new movement called Critical Resistance, which was directed against the prison system itself. In her book Are Prisons Obsolete? (2004), Davis argued that prisons are part of a racist criminal justice system, and she showed how the prison-industrial complex was shaped by slavery and its aftermath.

Angela Davis has been pivotal in developing an anti-racist feminist scholarship. She has been especially attentive to myriad forms of violence against women of color. While in prison she wrote “Reflections on the Black Woman’s Role in the Community of Slaves,” originally published in The Black Scholar in December 1971. This article helped to initiate the field of black women’s studies. A second, very long essay, also written in prison, “Women and Capitalism: Dialectics of Oppression and Liberation,” was prepared for a Symposium of the Philosophical Study of Dialectical Materialism in December 1971. (It was subsequently reprinted in the Angela Y. Davis Reader ). This work is a detailed theoretical and political critique of the writings of white feminists in the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s. In addition, Davis published an important collection of essays titled Women, Race, and Class in 1981. In 1998 she wrote Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday , a detailed analysis of the feminist consciousness of working-class black women in the 1920s and 1930s. The book includes the lyrics to all the songs of the three singers.

As scholar, teacher, and activist Davis has inspired generations of students, colleagues, and community activists for more than forty years.

Davis, Daniel Webster(1862–1913) - Minister, educator, writer, Well-Known Lecturer, Chronology, Becomes a Poet [next] [back] Davis, Albert Porter(1890–1976) - Physician, surgeon, entrepreneur, Earns Pilot’s License, Chronology, Builds Mobile Home Park

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