The Life of Angela Davis

By Tatiahna Turner

Born Angela Yvonne Davis on January 26, 1944 in Birmingham, Alabama she is best known as an African-American political activist and for her relations to the Black Panther Party.

Davis grew up in a middle class neighborhood that was nicknamed “Dynamite Hill” due to the amount of African-American homes in the area that were bombed by the Ku Klux Klan. She was aware and affected by racial prejudice from her experiences with discrimination while growing up in Alabama. As a teenager, Davis organized interracial study groups that were broken up by the police. Davis’ mother Sallye, taught in an elementary school and was also an active member of the NAACP. Davis pursued higher education at Brandeis University where she studied philosophy, and then later, as a graduate student she attended the University of California, San Diego.

In 1969, Davis accepted a position as an assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). At this time she was known to world as a radical feminist and activist, a member of the Communist Party USA, and an associate of the Black Panther Party. Davis was fired from her job at UCLA due to her ties and beliefs with the Communist Party, but was then rehired after a judge ruled that she could not be fired solely due to her relations with them. A short while later, on June 20, 1970, Davis was let go from her position at UCLA again, but this time the reason was “inflammatory language” that she used during speeches. The report written for her dismissal stated, “We deem particularly offensive such utterances as her statement that the regents ‘killed, brutalized (and) murdered’ the People’s Park demonstrators, and her repeated characterizations of the police as ‘pigs’.”

Angela Davis was a strong supporter of the Soledad Brothers, who were three inmates accused of killing a guard at the Soledad Prison. As reported by FamPeople, the incident that took place was as follows: “On August 7, 1970, Jonathan Jackson, a heavily armed, 17-year-old African-American high-school student, gained control over a courtroom in Marin County, California. Once in the courtroom, Jackson armed the black defendants and took Judge Harold Haley, the prosecutor, and three female jurors as hostages. As Jackson transported the hostages and two black convicts away from the courtroom, the police began shooting at the vehicle. The judge, one of the jurors, the prosecutor, and the three black men were killed in the melee. Davis had purchased the firearms used in the attack, including the shotgun used to kill Haley, which had been bought two days prior and the barrel sawed off. She had also written numerous letters found in the prison cell of one of the murderers. Since California considers “all persons concerned in the commission of a crime, whether they directly commit the act constituting the offense… principals in any crime so committed,” San Marin County Superior Judge Peter Allen Smith charged Davis with “aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder in the death of Judge Harold Haley” and issued a warrant for her arrest. Hours after the judge issued the warrant on August 14, 1970 a massive attempt to arrest Angela Davis began. On August 18, 1970, four days after the initial warrant was issued, the FBI director J. Edgar Hoover made Angela Davis the third woman to appear on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List.”

Davis fled from California and, according to her autobiography, hid in the homes of close friends. She was captured on October 13, 1970. On June 4, 1972 after 13 hours of deliberation Davis was found not guilty by an all-white jury. They decided that her owning the guns used in the crime was not enough evidence to convict her. After years of traveling and lecturing, Davis returned to the US where she taught at the University of California, Santa Cruz until her retirement in 2008. In 2017, Davis attended the Women’s March on Washington as a featured speaker and was made honorary co-chair.