When Angela Davis strode on the political stage with her fist raised high and her iconic Afro standing higher, people noticed. She is a rebel and a revolutionary, a bookish philosopher who has lived out her theories with action and purpose.
Smart, stylish, eloquent and fearless, Davis never lets her style get in the way of the substance. Her life’s work has been built around issues of race, community and the criminal justice system. In the 70s, she was involved with The Black Panthers, but much of her energy was focused on what she termed the Prison-Industrial Complex, the systematic privatization of prisons as profit-making machines. This means the more people in prison, the more lucrative the business. Hence, the absurd increase in men (mostly poor, young, black) sent to U.S prisons in the last two decades.
Davis herself was on the run from the law in the 70s, following the murder of a California judge. Innocent, she went into hiding, which sparked a nationwide search and worldwide media attention, propelling her to the FBI’s most wanted list. Two months later, she was arrested in a motel in midtown Manhattan. Despite pressure from famous rightwing fear-mongers – Richard Nixon (who branded Davis a “terrorist”), the then California governor Ronald Reagan and rat-bag FBI director J Edgar Hoover – Davis became an international cause celebre. A global campaign called for her release and Aretha Franklin offered to post quarter of a million dollars in bail. She was acquitted in the end.
Angela Davis inspired people all over the world, including John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who recorded their song “Angela” on their 1972 album, Some Time in New York City. The Rolling Stones also wrote about Davis, recording the song “Sweet Black Angel” on their 1972 album, Exile on Main Street.
Davis is now a retired professor with the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz and is the former director of the university’s Feminist Studies Department. She is also the founder of Critical Resistance, an organization working against the Prison-Industrial Complex.