Angela Davis (January 26, 1944)
Angela Yvonne Davis is a prominent political activist, scholar, and author. She emerged as the leader of Communist Party USA in the 1960s and had close ties to the Black Panther Party. She has advocated for the abolishment of prisons and the prison-industrial complex. She is currently Distinguished Professor Emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she taught in the History of Consciousness Department and is the former director of the Feminist Studies Department.
Davis was born in Birmingham, Alabama, where she attended elementary and middle school. Her mother Sallye Bell Davis worked for the Southern Negro Youth Congress, which had ties to the Communist Party. She attended the Elisabeth Irwin High School, a progressive high school in New York City. Later she received a scholarship to Brandeis University, where she studied one year in France and graduated with honors and a degree in French in 1965. She continued her education at the University of Frankfurt in Germany, where she studied philosophy, and the University of California-San Diego, where she earned a Master’s degree. She went on to earn a Ph.D. at Humboldt University in Germany. In 1969 she was hired to teach philosophy at the University of California-Los Angeles. The University of California Board of Regents, at the direction of Governor Ronald Reagan, dismissed Davis because she belonged to the Communist Party. Although a court ruling blocked the firing, the Board fired her again in 1970, this time for using “inflammatory language.” Governor Reagan declared that Davis would never teach in the University of California system again. Davis’s vocal support for the Black Panther Party was another reason for her persecution by Governor Reagan and the FBI.
Angela Davis is well known for a notable arrest and trial in 1970. In January 1970 George Jackson, an inmate at Soledad Prison in California, and two other prisoners were charged with killing a prison guard. During the trial, Jackson’s 17-year old brother Jonathan Jackson took over a Marin County courtroom where he armed the black defendants and took the judge, prosecutor, and three female jurors hostage. By the end of the whole ordeal, the judge, Jonathan Jackson, and the armed defendants were killed while the prosecutor and one of the jurors were injured. Davis was accused of purchasing the guns used in commission of the crimes so she was charged with “aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder." Learn more about Angela Davis
Angela Davis, ca. 1965 (Library of Congress)
Stanford University: Papers of the National United Committee to Free Angela Davis, ca. 1970-1972
Angela Davis Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Angela Davis Case series, Center for Oral History Research, UCLA Library
Angela Davis Case Collection, Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute Archives, Bancroft Library, University of California-Berkeley
Davis fled prosecution. Four days after the initial warrant was issued, J. Edgar Hoover listed Angela Davis on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List. She was on the run for two months before being apprehended in New York City. Thousands of activists around the world organized in her defense and demanded her release. After being incarcerated for sixteen months, Davis was tried and on June 4, 1972 she was found not guilty by an all-white jury.
After her trial, Davis visited various Communist nations, including Cuba, the USSR, and East Germany. Upon returning to the United States, she resumed her teaching career, holding positions at several universities and colleges in California, including the Claremont Colleges, San Francisco State University, and the University of California-Santa Cruz, where she taught from 1991 to 2008. In addition to her teaching career, she has written a dozen books and has continued to lead the fight against racism, patriarchal oppression, war, incarceration, and the death penalty. Davis left the Communist Party in 1991 and established the Committees for Correspondence of Democracy and Socialism. In the early 1980s she was married to photographer Hilton Braithwaite. In 1998 she talked about her lesbian identity in an article in OUT magazine.
Most of the records at the National Archives relating to Angela Davis are textual, but there are also sound recordings (three at the National Archives facility in College Park, MD and one in the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, CA). Many of the textual records are from Record Group 65: Records of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1896-2008, Series: Classification 157 (Civil Unrest) Case Files, 1957-1978.