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Angela Yvonne Davis
Born January 26, 1944 (age 66)
Birmingham, Alabama, USA
Occupation Author, Educator, Activist

Angela Davis (b. January 26, 1944 in Birmingham, Alabama) is an American socialist, political activist and retired professor with the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She was the director of the university's Feminist Studies department.[1] Davis was a vibrant activist during the Civil Rights Movement and was associated with the Black Panthers. Her research interests are in feminism, African American studies, critical theory, Marxism, popular music and social consciousness, and the philosophy and history of punishment and prisons.[2]

In the 1970s, she was a target of COINTELPRO, tried and acquitted of suspected involvement in the Soledad brothers' August 1970 abduction and murder of Judge Harold Haley in Marin County, California. She was twice a candidate for Vice President on the Communist Party USA ticket during the Reagan era.

Since moving in the early 1990s from party communism to other forms of political commitment, she has identified herself as a democratic socialist. Davis is the founder of Critical Resistance, an organization working to abolish the prison-industrial complex.



Davis was born in Birmingham, Alabama. Her father was a graduate of St. Augustine's College, a traditionally black college in Raleigh, North Carolina, and was briefly a high school history teacher. Her father later owned and operated a service station in the black section of Birmingham. Her mother, a graduate of Miles College in Birmingham, was an elementary school teacher.

The family lived in the "Dynamite Hill" neighborhood, which was marked by racial conflict. Davis was occasionally able to spend time on her uncle's farm and with friends in New York City.[3] Her brother, Ben Davis, played defensive back for the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Davis attended Carrie A. Tuggle School, a black elementary school; later she attended Parker Annex, a middle-school branch of Parker High School. By her junior year, she had applied to and was accepted at an American Friends Service Committee program that placed black students from the South in integrated schools in the North. She chose Elisabeth Irwin High School in Greenwich Village in New York City. There she was introduced to socialism and communism and was recruited by a Communist youth group, Advance. She also met children of some of the leaders of the Communist Party, including her lifelong friend, Bettina Aptheker.


Brandeis University

Davis was awarded a 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 interested in Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre), she soon made friends with foreign students. She encountered the Frankfurt School philosopher Herbert Marcuse at a rally during the Cuban Missile Crisis and then became his student. She worked part time to earn enough money to travel to France and Switzerland before she went on to attend the eighth World Festival of Youth and Students in Helsinki, Finland. She returned home to an FBI interview about her attendance at the Communist-sponsored festival.[4]

During her second year at Brandeis, she decided to major in French and continued her intensive study of Sartre. Davis was accepted by the Hamilton College Junior Year in France Program and, she wrote in her autobiography, she managed to talk Brandeis into extending financial support via her scholarship. Classes were initially at Biarritz and later at the Sorbonne. In Paris, she and other students lived with a French family. It was at Biarritz that she received news of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, committed by the members of the Ku Klux Klan, an occasion that deeply affected her, because, she wrote, she was personally acquainted with the four young victims.[4]

Nearing completion of her degree in French, Davis realized her major interest was in philosophy. She became particularly interested in the ideas of Herbert Marcuse and on her return to Brandeis she sat in on his course without asking for credit. Marcuse, she wrote, 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.[4]

University of Frankfurt

In Germany, with just a stipend of $100 a month, she first lived with a German family. Later, she moved with a group of students into a loft in an old factory. After visiting East Berlin during the annual May Day celebration, she felt that the East German government was dealing better with the residual effects of fascism than were the West Germans. Many of her roommates were active in the radical Socialist German Student Union (SDS), and Davis participated in SDS actions, but events unfolding in the United States — the formation of the Black Panther Party and transformation of SNCC, for example — impelled her to return to the US.[4]

Postgraduate work

Marcuse, in the meantime, had moved to the University of California, San Diego, and Davis followed him there after her two years in Frankfurt.[4]

On the way back to the United States, Davis stopped in London to attend a conference on "The Dialectics of Liberation." The African-American contingent included the American Stokely Carmichael and the British Michael X. Although moved by Carmichael's fiery rhetoric, she was disappointed by her colleagues' black nationalist sentiments and their rejection of communism as a "white man's thing." She held the view that any nationalism was a barrier to grappling with the underlying issue, capitalist domination of working people of all races.[5]

Davis earned her master's degree from the San Diego campus and her doctorate in philosophy from Humboldt University in East Berlin.[6][citation needed]


Davis was an acting assistant professor in the philosophy department at the UCLA, beginning in 1969. At that time, she also was known as a radical feminist and activist, a member of the Communist Party USA and an associate of the Black Panther Party.[1]

The Board of Regents of the University of California, urged by then-California Governor Ronald Reagan, fired her from her job in 1969 because of her membership in the Communist Party. She was later rehired after legal action was taken.[citation needed]

Arrest and trial

On August 7, 1970, Superior Court Judge Harold Haley was abducted from his Marin County, California, courtroom and murdered during an effort to free a convict.[7]

The firearms used in the attack were purchased in Davis's name, including the shotgun used to kill Haley, which had been purchased only two days prior and sawed-off.[7]. The California warrant issued for Davis charged her as an accomplice to conspiracy, kidnapping, and homicide. On August 18, 1970, Davis became the third woman and the 309th person to appear on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List.[8]

Davis fled California and evaded the police for more than two months before being captured in New York City. While being held in the Women's Detention Center there, she was initially segregated from the general population, but with the help of her legal team soon obtained a Federal court order to get out of the segregated area.[9]

Her bail was posted by Rodger McAfee, a farmer from Caruthers, California. Portions of her legal defense expenses were paid for by the Presbyterian Church (UPCNA).[10]

In 1972, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. The mere fact that she owned the guns used in the crime was not sufficient to establish her responsibility for the plot. John Lennon and Yoko Ono, wrote the song "Angela" on their 1972 studio album Some Time In New York City to show their support. Mick Jagger, of the Rolling Stones, wrote the song "Sweet Black Angel" in her support. The song was released in 1972 on the album Exile on Main Street.[11]

In Cuba

After her release, Davis moved to Cuba, following fellow radicals Huey Newton, Stokely Carmichael, and Assata Shakur. Her reception by Afro-Cubans at a mass rally was so enthusiastic that she was reportedly barely able to speak.[12]

Aleksander Solzhenitsyn

In a New York City speech on July 9, 1975, Russian dissident and Nobel Laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn told an AFL-CIO meeting that Davis was derelict in supporting various socialist projects around the world, given her stark opposition to the U.S. prison system. In particular, Solzhenitsyn claimed that a group of Czech prisoners appealed to Davis for support, which he said she refused to offer.[13] In a speech at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania, Davis denied Solzhenitsyn's claim.[14]


Davis ran for Vice President on the Communist ticket in 1980 and 1984, along with the veteran party leader, Gus Hall, as the lead candidate. She also won the Lenin Peace Prize for her civil rights activism.

Angela Davis as honorary guest of an East German Youth Festival in 1973

Davis 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 has referred to the United States prison system as the "prison-industrial complex." Davis suggested focusing social efforts on education and building "engaged communities" to solve various social problems now handled through state punishment.[1] Davis was one of the primary founders of Critical Resistance, a national grassroots organization dedicated to building a movement to abolish the prison system.

She has lectured at San Francisco State University, Stanford University, Bryn Mawr College, Brown University, Syracuse University, and other schools.[1] She states that in her teaching, which is mostly at the graduate level, she concentrates more on posing questions that encourage development of critical thinking than on imparting knowledge.[1] In 1997, she declared herself to be a lesbian in Out magazine.[15]

Davis spoke out against the 1995 Million Man March, arguing that the exclusion of women from this event necessarily promoted male chauvinism and that the organizers, including Louis Farrakhan, preferred women to take subordinate roles in society. Together with Kimberlé Crenshaw and others, she formed the African American Agenda 2000, an alliance of Black feminists. [16]

Davis is no longer a member of the Communist Party USA, leaving it to help found the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, which broke from the CPUSA because of the latter's support of the Soviet coup attempt of 1991 and the Communist parties of the Warsaw Pact.[17] She remains on the Advisory Board of the Committees.[18]

Davis at the University of Alberta, March 28, 2006.

Davis has continued to speak out against the death penalty. At the University of California, Santa Cruz, she participated in a 2004 panel concerning Kevin Cooper. She also spoke in defense of Stanley "Tookie" Williams on another panel in 2005,[19] and 2009.[20]

In addition to being the commencement speaker at Grinnell College in 2007, in October of that year, Davis was the keynote speaker at the fifth annual Practical Activism Conference at UC Santa Cruz.[21]

On February 8, 2008, Davis spoke on the campus of Howard University at the invitation of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity. On February 24, 2008, she was featured as the closing keynote speaker for the 2008 Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference. On April 14, 2008, she spoke at the College of Charleston as a guest of the Women's and Gender Studies Program. On January 23, 2009, she was the keynote speaker at the Martin Luther King Commemorative Celebration on the campus of Louisiana State University.[22]

On April 16, 2009, she was the keynote speaker at the University of Virginia Carter G. Woodson Institute for African American and African Studies symposium on The Problem of Punishment: Race, Inequity, and Justice.[23] On January 20, 2010, Davis was the keynote speaker in San Antonio, Texas, at Trinity University's MLK Day Celebration held in Laurie Auditorium.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e "Interview with Angela Davis". BookTV. 2004-10-03.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Davis, Angela Yvonne (March 1989). "Rocks". Angela Davis: An Autobiography. New York City: International Publishers. ISBN 0717-80667-7. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Davis, Angela Yvonne (March 1989). "Waters". Angela Davis: An Autobiography. New York City: International Publishers. ISBN 0717-80667-7. 
  5. ^ Davis, Angela Yvonne (March 1989). "Flames". Angela Davis: An Autobiography. New York City: International Publishers. ISBN 0717-80667-7. 
  6. ^ "Women Outlaws: Politics of Gender and Resistance in the US Criminal Justice System", SUNY Cortland, Mechthild Nagel
  7. ^ a b "Search broadens for Angela Davis". Eugene Register-Guard. August 17, 1970. Retrieved September 14, 2009. 
  8. ^ __BookTextView/135;pt=125 "Biography". Davis (Angela) Legal Defense Collection, 1970-1972. __BookTextView/135;pt=125. Retrieved 2007-06-21. 
  9. ^ Davis, Angela Yvonne (March 1989). "Nets". Angela Davis: An Autobiography. New York City: International Publishers. ISBN 0717-80667-7. 
  10. ^ SOL STERN (June 27, 1971). "The Campaign to Free Angela Davis and Ruchell Magee". The New York Times. 
  11. ^ Caldwell, Earl. "Angela Davis Acquitted on All Charges" The New York Times. June 5, 1972. Retrieved on 2008-07-02.
  12. ^ Gott, Richard (2004). Cuba: A New History. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. pp. 230. ISBN 0-300-10411-1. 
  13. ^ Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr (October 1976). Warning to the West. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 60–61. ISBN 0374513341. 
  14. ^ Angela Davis, Q&A after a speech, "Engaging Diversity on Campus: The Curriculum and the Faculty," East Stroudsburg University, Pennsylvania, 10/15/2006.
  15. ^ "Angela Davis". Notable name database. Retrieved 2007-07-21. 
  16. ^ E. Frances White (2001). Dark continent of our bodies: black feminism and the politics of respectability. Temple University Press. ISBN 9781566398800.,#v=onepage&q=angela%20davis%20African%20American%20Agenda%202000%2C&f=false. 
  17. ^ "(title unknown)". Corresponder (Committees of Correspondence). 1992. 
  18. ^ "Advisory board". Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism website. Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. 2007-07-20. Retrieved 2007-07-20. 
  19. ^ "Angela Davis: “The State of California May Have Extinguished the Life of Stanley Tookie Williams, But They Have Not Managed to Extinguish the Hope for a Better World”", Democracy Now, December 13, 2005
  20. ^
  21. ^ Santa Cruz Indymedia coverage of the 5th annual Practical Activism Conference at UC Santa Cruz.
  22. ^ Foley, Melissa. "LSU to Hold Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Events." LSU Highlights. Jan. 2009. Web. 3 Nov. 2009. [1]
  23. ^ Bromley, Anne. "Angela Davis to Headline the Woodson Institute’s Spring Symposium." The Woodson Institute Newsletter. 2 Apr. 2009. Web. 3 Nov. 2009. [2]

External links

Party political offices
Preceded by
Jarvis Tyner
Communist Party USA Vice Presidential candidate
1980 (lost), 1984 (lost)
Succeeded by


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Angela Davis (born 1944-01-26) is an American Communist organizer and professor who was associated with the Black Panther Party (BPP) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).


  • It is both humiliating and humbling to discover that a single generation after the events that constructed me as a public personality, I am remembered as a hairdo.
    • "Afro Images: Politics, Fashion, and Nostalgia" Critical Inquiry. Vol. 21, No. 1 (Autumn, 1994), pp. 37-39, 41-43 and 45.
  • Where cultural representations do not reach out beyond themselves, there is the danger that they will function as the surrogates for activism, that they will constitute both the beginning and the end of political practice.
    • "Black Nationalism: The Sixties and the Nineties." Black Popular Culture, ed. Gina Dent (Seattle, Wash: Bay Press, 1992), 324.
  • 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.
    • "For a People's Culture." Political Affairs, March 1995


  • Imprisonment has become the response of first resort to far too many of our social problems.

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