The theme of the Campus YMCA’s Friday Forum series this semester is Rethinking Security: Beyond Mass Incarceration and this Friday the featured speaker is scholar and internationally known activist Angela Davis.
I was just a girl when Angela Davis became famous (or notorious, depending on your politics) as one of the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted Fugitives after guns she owned were used in a courtroom takeover by Black militants in 1970. Davis would eventually be found not guilty of all charges by an all-white jury, but I still remember seeing her on the nightly news – a thin, poised Black woman with her full afro and defiant manner.
It was years later when I discovered her autobiography – a long, serious read written in 1974 that is both intense and guarded. Davis was the daughter of educated, politically conscious parents; she grew up in Birmingham, Alabama at a time when frequent racially-motivated bombings earned the city the nickname “Bombingham.” Her story is compelling and includes much about her radicalization, her trial and imprisonment, and her work with the Black Panthers and the Communist Party. Re-visiting the book now is like stepping back to a different time – one that was volatile, violent and urgent, but also hopeful, with a sense that a more just society - free of racism and poverty – was possible.
Throughout her life Davis has been a controversial figure – working alongside Black militants in the 60s, becoming an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, running as a vice presidential candidate for the Communist Party USA, and working for decades to radically change the prison/criminal justice system.
If you’re curious about Angela Davis and her ideas, take a look at these – all available at the Urbana Free Library:
Black Power Mixtape: 1967 – 1975 – This DVD contains amazing documentary footage of the Black Power Movement, including speeches and interviews with Stokely Carmichael, Bobby Seale, Angela Davis and Eldridge Cleaver.
Are Prisons Obsolete? In this concise, provocative 2003 book, Davis says that if we transform society we could abolish prisons.
Expect to hear more of her ideas at her talk Friday at the Campus YMCA.