Angela Davis

Philosopher, Radical Activist, Teacher

Angela Davis, 1969
Angela Davis, 1969. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Angela Davis is known as a radical activist, philosopher, writer, speaker, and educator. She was well known for a time through her association with the Black Panthers in the 1960s and 1970s. She was fired from one teaching job for being a Communist, and she appeared on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's "Ten Most Wanted List" for a time.

Early Life and Student Years

 Angela Yvonne Davis was born on January 26, 1944, in Birmingham, Alabama.

 Her father B. Frank Davis was a teacher who opened a gas station, and her mother, Sallye E. Davis, was a teacher.  She lived in a segregated neighborhood and went to segregated schools through high school.  She became involved with her family in civil rights demonstrations.  She spent some time in New York City where her mother was earning a master's degree during summer breaks from teaching.

She excelled as a student, graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in 1965, with two years of study at the Sorbonne, University of Paris. She studied philosophy in Germany at the University of Frankfort for two years, then received an M.A. from the University of California at San Diego in 1968. Her doctoral study was from 1968 to 1969.

During her undergraduate years at Brandeis, she was shocked to hear of the bombing of a Birmingham church, killing four girls she had known.

Politics and Philosophy

A member of the Communist Party, USA, at the time, she became involved in radical black politics and in several organizations for black women, including helping to found Sisters Inside and Critical Resistance.

She also joined the Black Panthers and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She was part of an all-black Communist group called the Che-Lumumba Club, and through that group began to organize public protests.

In 1969, Davis was hired to a position at the University of California at Los Angeles, an assistant professorship.

She taught Kant, Marxism, and philosophy in black literature. She was popular as a a teacher, but a leak identifying her as a member of the Communist Party led to the UCLA regent -- headed then by Ronald Reagan -- to dismiss her.  A court ordered her reinstatement, but she was fired again the next year.

Activism

She became involved in the case of the Soledad Brothers, a group of  prisoners at Soledad Prison. Anonymous threats led her to purchase weapons.

Davis was arrested as a suspected conspirator in the abortive attempt to free George Jackson, one of the Soledad Brothers, from a courtroom in Marin County, California, August 7, 1970. A county judge was killed in the failed attempt to take hostages and rescue Jackson. The guns used were registered in her name. Angela Davis was eventually acquitted of all charges but she was on the FBI's most-wanted list as she fled and went into hiding to avoid arrest.

Angela Davis is often associated with the Black Panthers and with the black power politics of the late 1960s and early 1970s. She joined the Communist Party when Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. She was active with SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) before the Black Panthers.

Angela Davis ran for U.S. Vice President on the Communist Party ticket in 1980.

Angela Davis has been an activist and writer promoting women's rights and racial justice while pursuing her career as a philosopher and teacher at the University of Santa Cruz and San Francisco University—she achieved tenure at the University of California at Santa Cruz though former governor Ronald Reagan swore she would never teach again in the University of California system. She studied with political philosopher Herbert Marcuse. She has published on race, class, and gender (see below).

She opposed the Million Man March of Louis Farrakhan, as part of her long work for black women's rights. In 1999 she came out as a lesbian when she was outed in the press.

When she retired from UCSC, she was named Professor Emerita.

She continued her work for prison abolition, women's rights, and racial justice. She has taught at UCLA and elsewhere as a visiting professor.

Also see: Angela Davis Quotes

Books by and About Angela Davis