It comes as no surprise that Dr. Angela Davis was speaking out at the Women’s March on January 21, joining her voice with the millions that are in opposition to a white supremacist administration and its policies. Angela Yvonne Davis has the DNA of a fighter, a disrupter; activism and resistance are in her blood. She grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, in an area nicknamed “Dynamite Hill” due to the regularity of racially motivated terrorist attacks that black families experienced there. Her mother, Sallye Davis was an elementary school teacher and active member of the NAACP; an affiliation that at that time could surely have cost her her life. (Her sister Dr. Fania Davis is a civil rights attorney and youth advocate in Oakland, California. We featured her in an earlier blog here.)
It was the murder of the four little girls at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in her hometown that prompted her decision to join the Civil Rights Movement in 1963. The victims were her neighbors and her mother’s students. She recalls the black men in her community organizing armed patrols to protect their families. It is in this context of racism, white terrorism and violence that Davis developed as a young woman bent on the pursuit of justice.
As her own consciousness and political awareness developed, Davis joined the Black Panthers and while teaching at UCLA became affiliated with the Communist Party; she was then removed from her position with the university as a result. Davis’ involvement in the attempt to free Black Panther members, George Jackson and W.L. Nolen would make her the target of President Nixon and the then California governor, Ronald Reagan. The U.S. government was intent on suppressing any and all efforts toward revolution. She served eighteen months in jail and was eventually released…
We are blessed to have such a fierce warrior for human rights to learn from. She has spoken truth to power her entire life. Whether it was the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, neo-colonialism in the African continent, political prisoners, Black Lives Matter, or LGBT issues, Dr. Davis has been consistent in her demand for justice. And to borrow from the lyrics of Gang Starr, she’s not new to this, but she’s true to this. Hers is an extraordinary example of love, conviction, and boldness in the face of forces that would have her do otherwise.
Whenever we highlight one of the countless revolutionaries, freedom fighters, activists, artists or trailblazers of the Diaspora, we encourage you to honor them and teach your students about them. I would like to expand my own honoring, and invite you to as well, by becoming a better student of their lives and contributions. I will begin by reading, Are Prisons Obsolete and an open letter from James Baldwin to Davis when she was arrested and charged for kidnapping and first degree murder in 1970. In solidarity with his sister he writes:
So be it. We cannot awaken this sleeper, and God knows we have tried. We must do what we can do, and fortify and save each other—we are not drowning in an apathetic self-contempt, we do feel ourselves sufficiently worthwhile to contend even with the inexorable forces in order to change our fate and the fate of our children and the condition of the world! We know that a man is not a thing and is not to be placed at the mercy of things. We know that air and water belong to all mankind and not merely to industrialists. We know that a baby does not come into the world merely to be the instrument of someone else’s profit. We know that a democracy does not mean the coercion of all into a deadly—and, finally, wicked— mediocrity but the liberty for all to aspire to the best that is in him, or that has ever been.
Baldwin’s words were for Davis but they are also words for us, today. He wanted her to know that despite was she was facing that he had her back. So we must be attentive and hear the words of those who have been fighting for us and draw insight and encouragement from them. Let us truly honor Dr. Angela Davis not simply because it is her birthday but because she is our role model of a revolutionary and because we have much to learn from knowing and understanding her story.
Peace and love good people.
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