Angela Davis: A trailblazer and icon


Wyatt Van Wagner

Famous civil rights activist, Angela Davis, has blazed a trail for many black people, women, and the LGBTQ+ community and has continued to tackle oppression in a fight for equality. 

Born on January 26, 1944 in the infamously racist city of Birmingham, Alabama Davis grew up in the middle-class neighborhood dubbed “Dynamite Hill”. This nickname came from the amount of African-american houses the were bombed by the KKK during this time. Her father, Frank Davis, owned a service station while her mother, Sallye Davis, was an active member of the NAACP and worked as an elementary school teacher. Growing up in Alabama, Davis was very aware of the racial discrimination in bigotry that surrounded her and this further sparked her future legacy. An event that likely sparked this fire more was the Birmingham church bombing of 1963 which killed 4 young girls, some of which she knew.

Angela later moved north and attended Brandeis University in Massachusetts studying philosophy. As a graduate of University of California (San Diego) in the 1960’s, Davis was heavily associated with the Black Panthers and groups similar to them. Despite this, she spent a majority of time with the Che-Lumumba Club which was an all-Black branch of the Communist party. She later was hired to teach at the University of California (Los Angeles) but ran into trouble with the administration due to her association with communism and left in 1970. 

Davis had expressed her strong support of three prison inmates of the Soledad Prison, who were referred to as the Soledad brothers. After a brawl between inmates and guards where several African-American inmates- the Soledad brothers were used as scapegoats and were accused of killing a prison guard. During the trial of George Lester Jackson (one of the inmates accused), an escape attempt was made killing several people in the courtroom in which Davis was accused of having a part in. The two pieces of evidence that put Davis in jail for 18 months were guns registered in her name that were used and the alleged crush Davis had towards Jackson. During her time in jail, a ‘Free Angela Davis’ movement was sparked and she inspired songs such as Yoko Ono and John Lennon’s “Angela” and the Rolling Stones “Sweet Black Beauty” and Davis was then acquitted of the charges in June of 1972. 

In a 1997 interview with Out Magazine, Angela came out as a lesbian and she know openly lives with her partner, Gina Dent. Davis returned to teaching after time spent traveling and giving lectures, and became a professor at the University of California (Santa Cruz). Angela taught classes on the history of consciousness before she retired in 2008. She continued to give lectures at many esteemed universities discussing an array of social issues from racism to sexism. Davis has also written several books including Angela Davis: An Autobiography (1974), Women, Race, and Class (1980), Women, Culture and Politics (1989), Are Prisons Obsolete? (2003), Abolition Democracy (2005), and The Meaning of Freedom (2012).

Angela Davis once said, “When Obama was elected president, a prisoner said “one black man in the White House doesn’t make up for one million black men in the Big House” on the election of the first black president, Barack Obama. This quote is a perfect encapsulation of Angela’s work on prison reform and racial equality which is a fight that is still going. 

Angela Davis’s legacy is one that will be remembered for her tenacity and boldness in a time where people of color, especially women, were not allowed to express these behaviors. For her work not only for the black community, but the LGBTQ+ community and woman will forever be remembered as one that blazed trails for these marginalized groups and inspired people to fight for change.