Home » Blog » Uncategorized » Right, Wrong, and Prophetic: Angela Davis

Right, Wrong, and Prophetic: Angela Davis

Dr. Davis was on Time’s 2020 List of Most Influential People

Photo by Unseen Histories on Unsplash

In 2020, Angela Davis was included on Time’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world. That is 2020, when the list includes Kamala Harris and Joe Biden and other contemporary figures in the arts, in leadership, in varied fields.

So why am I writing about a communist, a radical, a Black Power advocate, a woman who stood trial for conspiracy, murder, and kidnapping? I have become more of a centrist as I age, disliking the far left and the far right, wishing for a common-sense return, and an ability to compromise.

Angela Davis’ autobiography has been reissued several times.

I recently read Angela Davis’ autobiography, and it was enlightening and took me back to the 70s. Her autobiography, (Angela Davis: An Autobiography) was originally published in 1974, encouraged and nurtured by her editor, Toni Morrison. Davis was then 30 years old.

Angela Davis has something to teach us.

She has been right, wrong, and prophetic. In her autobiography, she questioned the need for the police and prison (“Defund the police” was the marchers’ chant in 2020). Her time in prison awaiting trial made her a life-long advocate for prison rights and reform. Her details of the indignities of prison life are hard reading, from body cavity searches to a total lack of privacy to the complete control of her entire day.

A gun registered to Angela Davis was used in a shoot-out in 1971 intended to rescue the Soledad Brothers. She was charged with conspiracy, murder, and kidnapping. She could have faced the death penalty if convicted.

The Soledad Brothers, four Soledad prisoners including George Jackson, were accused of murder for the killing of a guard in a prison riot. George Jackson wrote Soledad Brother which became a bestseller and was at the nexus of international leftist politics, black power, prison brutalization, and Politics (with a capital P — involving the governor, the President, and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover).

The times and the story of what happened are confusing and complicated. The story is not a simple story, and it isn’t “The facts, ma’am, just the facts.”

It’s the layers of who sees what, whose story is being told, from what point of view, and with what agenda. George Jackson was shot and killed in a purported attempted prison escape. The three other accused Soledad Brothers were eventually acquitted of the murder charge.

Angela Davis was acquitted of her charges, to.

What is important for the purpose of this story is that Dr. Angela Davis, when not even 30 years old, was seen as a national threat and was on the FBI’s most wanted list. But her push was for social justice. She courageously refused to back down even in the face of terrible criminal charges.

Dr. Davis grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. She was friends with the girls who were killed in the church bombing there.

Hair was political.

I had forgotten that even her hairstyle was seen as a political statement. She was one of the first young women to wear an Afro, seen as pro-black, pro-womanist, a natural style independent of Western European beauty standards.

Angela has a Ph.D. in philosophy and is fluent in French and German. She went to Brandeis University, which welcomed leftist politics and the Civil Rights movement. She was influenced by Professor Herbert Marcuse, a philosophy professor, and political activist referred to as the “Father of the New Left.” I remember hearing about Marcuse in my school days.

Dr. Davis eventually taught at colleges where she had once been fired or banned. The 1970s press painted her as a dangerous radical. Or maybe she is radical, and we’re still trying to implement her egalitarian points of view for women and for people of color.

Today, Dr. Angela Davis is a gray-haired 79-year-old. She’s out as a lesbian and lives with her partner.

The George Floyd protests reflect the spirit and the issues of the 1970s. We haven’t progressed in many areas of social concern. (The writer of her Times profile, Common, states that Angela is often mentioned by hip-hop artists, harbingers of culture.)

Some of her language from the 70s doesn’t wear well. “The Proletariat” of Marxist thought has become, in some instances, the MAGA movement. Dr. Davis is an intellectual; intellectuals are now scorned in right-wing circles.

The causes she championed are still bitterly fought over today (defunding the police). These stands are also unpopular with many living in once-progressive cities emptied out at their core and riddled by property crime.

My point is not to offer solutions here.

My point is that those we have disdained in the past may look prophetic from the future’s vantage point. Women have been leaders, some we admire, and others we don’t, or we have mixed feelings about them.

And some we re-evaluate, with the times.

Spread the love

2 Responses

  1. SingingFrogPress
    | Reply

    thank you for this Sharon. I recently saw her featured on Finding Your Own Roots, and much of what you’ve written hear was included in that program. And it was wonderful to see her as a person who is my age, and seems to have so many of the political views and ways of responding to her experiences that resonate to me, instead of the monster she was imaged as way back when.

    • Sharon Johnson

      Thanks, Sue, didn’t see that episode of TV, but wish I had. I was amazed by how much of what she wrote in 1972 was relevant today.I

Leave a Comment