Angela Yvonne Davis is a political activist, author, teacher and feminist. She was born on January 26, 1944 in Birmingham, Alabama. Her neighborhood was known for racial tensions and conflict, and Davis attended an all black elementary school. Her mother was an active member and organizer of the Southern Negro Congress, which had strong communist ties. This shaped and developed Davis’s interests as an adult. In high school, she was accepted by American Friends Service Committee program, which placed black students in racially integrated schools. She went to Elisabeth Irwin High School in New York City. Here she learned more about socialism and communism and joined a Communist Youth Group. She also met her close friend Bettina Aptheker there, who was also a feminist and social activist.
After winning a scholarship to Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, Davis enrolled there as one of its only three black students in her year. She studied philosophy with the German philosopher Herbert Marcuse. She graduated with highest honors in 1965 and then joined the University of Frankfurt in Germany for graduate work in philosophy. She moved in with a German family and lived on a stipend of $100 a month. She studied there for a time and then returned to the U.S. to study at the University of California, San Diego. Here she earned a Masters Degree, and then a doctorate in philosophy from Humboldt University in East Berlin.
She was associated with a radical group called the Black Panther Party. She also worked as an Associate Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, earning $10,000 a year. However, the board and governors were concerned with her radical associations and fired her from her job. She filed a court case and was subsequently reinstated to her position. In 1970, she was again fired for using “inflammatory language” and this time it was for good.
Davis was a strong supporter of three prison inmates of Soledad Prison who came to be known as the Soledad brothers. These three men were John W. Cluchette, Fleeta Drumgo and George Lester Jackson. They were accused of killing a prison guard after many black prisoners were killed in a fight by another guard. In August 1970, she was involved in a notorious court case involving the killing of four people. The arms used in the case had been registered to Davis’s name and she was imprisoned for 18 months. Writers and activist lobbied for her release and she was finally acquitted of all charges.
She visited Cuba, where she was warmly received by a huge crowd and then Russia, where she was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize for her civil rights activism. Between 1980-84, she worked as Professor of Ethnic Studies at the San Francisco State University. She also ran for Vice President of the U.S.A twice. She later left the Communist Party and formed the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. She has lectured at several universities including San Francisco State University, Stanford University, Bryn Mawr College, Brown University and Syracuse University. She has also been involved in several notable causes such as opposition to the Vietnam War, lobbying for gay rights, opposition to the death penalty and abolishment of prison industrial complexes. Davis has written several books, including “Women, Race, and Class” in 1980 and “Are Prisons Obsolete?” in 2003.