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Short Profile of Angela Yvonne Davis

by Marsha Prescod

Angela DavisAngela Yvonne Davis, born in 1944, in Birmingham, Alabama is an African-American political activist, philosopher, and educator whose imprisonment for murder – on charges later dropped - generated worldwide protest in the 1970s as she was viewed as a political prisoner in the battles in the 1950s, 60s and 70s between Civil Rights and Black Power activists, and parts of the US government.

A background of a politically conscious family, segregated schooling and living in an area of white terrorist activity directed against blacks (namely the Ku Klux Klan who bombed churches) made a highly intelligent child into a top student who started organising political activity in high school. Leaving the southern US she went to New York to finish school. She subsequently studied at universities in Massachusetts, Frankfurt and California. All the while she was active politically, involved in groups striving for civil/human rights for black people and other oppressed peoples, but became regarded as a threat by the US authorities after she became involved with two groups. The Black Panthers and the Communist Party. Both were controversial in the US. The Black Panthers argued for the self-defence (armed if necessary) of Black communities in the US, in pursuit if equal rights, employment and decent housing. This was contrary to the approach of the Civil Rights Movement’s approach in the southern US where passively taking beatings and abuse on camera whilst demonstrating for the right to vote and an end to segregation had been effective in getting the world’s attention. The Communist party was an anathema in a country where the Cold War between the USSR and the US and their competing political philosophies was at its height.

Cuban Poster of Angela DavisAngela Davis - a professor at 24 - was teaching at the University of California and speaking out as an advocate for black prisoners. A group of prisoners known as the ‘Soledad Brothers’ became famous due to the prison writings of George Jackson, one of their group, and Davis was linked to them. She was fired from her job at the University in 1969 at the request of the then Governor of California, Ronald Reagan and despite her winning a court action, her employers refused to renew her contract. Then Jonathan Jackson - brother of George Jackson who had been killed by prison guards - used a gun belonging to Angela Davis in a hostage taking where people died in a shoot-out. Though not involved, Davis was charged with kidnapping, conspiracy and murder and ended up going into hiding and being on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. She was captured, imprisoned and became the subject of an embarrassing international ‘Free Angela Davis’ campaign led by students and academics. She was eventually freed in 1972, charges were dropped and she went on to establish the National Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression. She has run for Vice President of the US, is still an academic and still campaigning for social justice.

See Links for further info on Angela Davis and the Civil Rights Movement
Books on the Civil Rights Movement
Books by Angela Y Davis



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