Angela Davis is an activist, educator and author. She is the author of eight books and has lectured throughout the United States as well as in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and South America. Davis gained her international reputation in the early 1970s, when she was tried for conspiracy and imprisoned, and later fully acquitted, after being implicated in a shootout in front of a California courthouse. As a member of the Advisory Board of the Prison Activist Resource Center, Davis focused on exposing racism that is endemic to the US prison system, and exploring new ways to de-construct oppression and race hatred.
Angela Davis, the daughter of an automobile mechanic and a school teacher, was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on January 26, 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 the segregated Carrie A. Tuggle Elementary School, and Parker Annex, a middle-school branch of Parker High School in Birmingham. 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, meeting children of some of the leaders of the Communist Party, including her lifelong friend, Bettina Aptheker.
Davis was awarded a scholarship to Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, where she was one of three black students in her freshman class. Feeling alienated by the isolation of the campus, Angela Davis 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 in 1963 to an FBI interview about her attendance at the Communist-sponsored festival. Angela Davis would go on to study at the Sorbonne in Paris and later the University of Frankfurt finally earning her master's degree from the University of California San Diego campus and her doctorate in philosophy from Humboldt University in East Berlin.
In 1969 Angela Davis was known as a radical feminist and activist, a member of the Communist Party, and an associate of the Black Panther Party. She was working as an acting assistant professor in the philosophy department at UCLA. When the Federal Bureau of Investigation informed the California Board of Regents, that Davis was a member of the American Communist Party, they terminated her contract in 1970.
Angela Davis became 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. On the 13th of January 1970, Nolan and two other black prisoners were 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 were indicted for his murder. It was claimed that Jackson had sought revenge for the killing of his friend, W. L. Nolan.
On August 7, 1970, Superior Court Judge Harold Haley, along with several other hostages, was abducted from his Marin County, California, courtroom by gunpoint and murdered by 17 year old Jonathon Jackson during his effort to free his brother George Jackson. The firearms used in the attack were purchased by Angela Davis, including the shotgun used to kill Haley, which had been purchased only two days prior and sawed-off. Numerous letters written by Angela Davis were found in the prison cell of George Jackson as well. 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 to appear on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List.
Davis became a fugitive and fled California. She evaded the police for more than two months before being captured in New York City. John Abt, general counsel of the Communist Party, was one of the first attorneys to represent Davis for her alleged involvement in the shootings. 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.
In 1972, she was tried and 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. and 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.
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<.
Angela Davis has been an activist and writer promoting women's rights and racial justice while pursuing her career as a philosopher and teacher at the University of Santa Cruz and San Francisco University. She achieved tenure at the University of California at Santa Cruz despite the fact that former Governor Ronald Reagan swore she would never teach again in the University of California system.
An author of eight books, a persistent theme of her work has been the range of social problems associated with incarceration and the generalized criminalization of those communities that are most affected by poverty and racial discrimination.
Angela Davis is a member of the executive board of the Women of Color Resource Center, a San Francisco Bay Area organization that emphasizes education of and about women who live in conditions of poverty. She also works with Justice Now, which provides legal assistance to women in prison and engages in advocacy for the abolition of imprisonment as the dominant strategy for addressing social problems. Internationally, she is affiliated with Sisters Inside, a similar organization based in Queensland, Australia.