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Who is Angela Davis?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 23, 2024
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Born in Birmingham, Alabama on 26 January 1944, Angela Yvonne Davis grew up in a segregated society that was about to experience a great deal of change. Gifted with a brilliant mind, Davis applied for a program operated by the American Friends Service Committee that allowed minority children growing up in the Deep South region of the United States to seek an education in racially integrated schools in the northern part of the country.

At the age of fourteen, Angela Davis began classes at the Elizabeth Irwin High School, located in Greenwich Village in New York. It was during her time at Elizabeth Irwin that Davis had the change to learn about the tenets of socialism and communism. Eventually, Angela Davis became active with the Advance program, which was sponsored by the Communist Party USA. Davis also associated with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) while attending college.

After completing her education, Angela Davis began work as an acting assistant professor on the campus of the University of California in Los Angeles. During this time, Davis had become to self-identify as a radical feminist, social activist, and as a member of the emerging Black Panther party. Her presence on the campus of UCLA was briefly interrupted when she was fired in late 1969. The reason given was her active membership in the Communist Party, rather than any mention of her socialist philosophies or her involvement with the Black Panthers. A strong and vocal show of support for Davis from the community led to a reversal of her firing.

During the summer of 1970, Angela Davis appeared to become more involved in Black Panther activity. At the same time, the Black Panther movement was receiving more national attention, not all of it positive. Some of this was due to the support of the leaders of the Black Panther movement for the so-called Soledad Brothers, three men who were incarcerated at Soledad Prison in California. An attempt to take hostages at the trial of a third party, James McClain, led to the shooting death of several people. Among those who died was Judge Harold Haley, who was killed while being abducted. The gun used to kill Haley was purportedly registered under the name of Angela Davis.

Named as an accomplice to the murder, Davis fled California and was eventually captured in New York two months later. After eighteen months, Angela Davis was tried and acquitted of all charges associated with the attempted abduction and the subsequent deaths of Haley and others.

Upon her release, Angela Davis spent several years in Cuba, where she was warmly received. While a staunch supporter for the Socialist regime in the Soviet Union and also an avid worker for prison reform, Davis was often accused of ignoring the conditions endured by prisoners in Soviet prisons, choosing instead to focus on the need for prison reform in the United States.

During the 1980s Angela Davis ran for vice-president on the Communist Party ticket on two occasions, and also wrote the first of several books. Davis has continued to lobby for prison reforms, identifying herself as a prison abolitionist. A popular guest speaker around the country, Angela Davis current serves as a Professor of History of Consciousness at the University of California, as well as Presidential Chair for the University of California campus in Santa Cruz. Angela Davis continues to function as an activist in many causes, including prison reform, the struggle against the death penalty, and gender and racial equality.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including PublicPeople, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By Illych — On May 16, 2011

@hidingplace - I'm not sure I agree with your point that drug users aren't criminals. If they're using drugs in the first place then they're breaking the law, it's as simple as that. Maybe these laws are overly harsh, but I think that's besides the point. People choose to use drugs and it's no wonder that that choice eventually leads them to commit further crimes.

By hidingplace — On May 14, 2011

I agree with @softener's point about overpopulated prisons. I think it ties in heavily with the so called War On Drugs; drug addicts are being sent to prison instead of hospitals or rehabs. In my opinion drug addicts are sick, they have a lifelong disease of addiction and need treatment, not imprisonment.

I think unfortunately there's a repeating pattern of unemployment, poor education systems and family breakdowns that lead people to drugs which then leads them to crime. It seems like nothing is being done to address the root of the problem, but instead they just lock everyone up.

By softener — On May 12, 2011

Angela Davis today is as smart and inspiring as she ever was. I've never had the chance to see her speak at any of the colleges of California but she still continues to advocate "a world without prison bars", and I have to say I agree with a lot of what she says. She co-founded Critical Resistance over a decade ago, a national organization dedicated to reforming (or completely overhauling) prison laws. The overpopulation of prisons - especially by African Americans - is a serious issue that needs to be addressed.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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