Feminist political activist Angela Davis was born to a service station owner father and elementary school teacher mother on January 26, 1944. They lived in Birmingham, Alabama in the racially divided neighborhood known as “Dynamite Hill.” Davis attended an all-black elementary school, middle school and high school before being accepted into an integrated Northern school in her junior year. She would have to relocate to New York City’s Greenwich Village to attend. It was at Elisabeth Irwin High School that Davis would become interested in studying socialism.
Davis was one of only three black students at the Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. Around this time, Davis would cross paths with philosopher Herbert Marcuse during a rally regarding the Cuban Missile Crisis. She would travel next to France, Switzerland and Finland before returning to Brandeis for her sophomore year. She would return to France to attend Hamilton College in her junior year and then partake in the study of philosophy in her senior year back at Brandeis. In 1965, David graduated magna cum laude as a member of Phi Beta Kappa . She would travel to Germany, live with a German family, study their culture and history, and then return to the United States, this time to San Diego, California, where she would eventually earn her master’s degree and then her doctorate in philosophy from Humboldt University in California.
On August 7, 1970, Superior Court Judge Harold Haley, along with additional hostages, was abducted from his California courtroom and, ultimately, murdered. Davis was charged 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. She would flee the state and seek refuge in New York City until her capture. In 1972, she would be tried and found not guilty. Two songs were written in the same year by activist singer/songwriters after this incident. One was called “Angela” (written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono) and the other was called “Sweet Black Angel” by the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger. Davis left for Cuba after the ordeal.
Davis’ activism did not end there. In 1980 and 1984, she would run for Vice President on the Communist Party ticket. She would also win the Lenin Peace Prize from East Germany for her civil rights activism. She would help to create the grassroots organization Critical Resistance – dedicated to building a movement to abolish the prison system. She would also form the African American Agenda 2000 in support of black feminists.
An out-lesbian since 1997, Davis currently resides in New York City and is a Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Women’s and Gender Studies Department at Syracuse University.
* Photo of Angela Davis by Nick Wiebe.