Angela Davis at UCLA: “We are Beginning to Understand Things for Which We had No Language”

Written by Shannon Richards and Angelina Murphy

Angela Y. Davis came into the attention of mainstream media as an outspoken activist in the 1960s. Born in 1944 in Alabama, Davis studied Philosophy at Brandeis University in Massachusetts and continued her studies at the University of California, San Diego. At the time, her involvement with the Communist Party USA and the Black Panther Party, along with the civil rights movement, labeled her as a radical feminist.

Davis was hired to teach at UCLA, but was soon attempted to be fired by the Regents, led by then-Governor Ronald Reagan, for her association with the Communist Party.

Charles Young fought for Davis, stating that she had a right to academic freedom. In 1970, Davis left teaching.

This did not limit her involvement with social activism. In 1970, Davis began to spearhead a campaign whose goal was to release the Soledad Brothers from prison. These three men, Fleeta Drumgo, John Clutchette and George Jackson, were accused of the murder of a Soledad prison guard. Davis stated in a press conference that:

“The situation in Soledad is part of a continuous pattern in the black community…Three black men who are known for their attempt within the prison to organize the inmates towards some form of united struggle against the real causes of our oppression, those three men are…singled out, and indicted for murder.”

During the men’s trials, the Jackson’s younger brother snuck in guns and tried to escape with him. Unfortunately, this event ended with four people dead. When the FBI realized that the guns used were registered to Davis, a warrant was issued for her arrest. She claimed that the guns were taken without her knowledge, and went into hiding in response.

Once she was caught, she was brought up on multiple charges, including murder. After spending 18 months in prison, and a massive outside protest calling for her release, Davis was acquitted of all charges.

Davis spent years traveling, protesting, and lecturing. UC Santa Cruz hosted her as a Philosophy and Gender Studies teacher until 2008 and she returned to UCLA this year as a lecturer in the Gender Studies graduate department, although Reagan stated that she would never teach at a UC again.

On Thursday, May 8th, Angela Davis returned to UCLA’s Royce Hall to give a lecture on “Feminism and Abolition: Extending the Dialogue” for the Regents’ Lectureship.

According to UCLA,

“The Regents’ Lectureship was established by the University of California in order to invite distinguished leaders from fields outside the traditional boundaries of the academic world to enrich its curriculum with their special knowledge, talents, and experiences.”

Davis recognized the historical moment that took place that night–her first lecture of her career taking place at UCLA, and decades later, returning to a university she was banned from.

Davis discussed an array of important topics all within the scope of the relationship between abolition and feminism.

From crime organization, to the conflict in Israel, to state violence in the prison system, to immigration and colonization, oppression on multiple levels was discussed in great detail.

After Davis’s lecture, several other panelists joined her to answer some remaining questions surrounding the evening’s discussion. The panel included Rachel Herzing, Cheryl Harris, and Robin D. G. Kelly.

The main topic of the evening was the prison industrial complex and how we must not try to reform the system, but abolish it.

Davis argued prison internationalism reveals that mass imprisonment is a global human rights violation which cages people; therefore, it is imperative to recognize the relationship and solidarity amongst those who have been or are imprisoned. While each generation has created a more oppressive prison system, the memories of slavery have remained imbedded in capital punishment throughout the years.

The night ended on a note of hope; while although at times it seems as if we are against all odds, we must, in the words of Davis, “Act as if you were able to change the world.”

The panel discussed that there is no single way to “fix” all of the complex and intersecting problems that both feminism and abolition face, as with each “answer” comes “an infinite progression of questions.”

We must change ourselves and how we view the world in order to change the system. It is important to recognize how far we have come, how we got there, and how much farther we have to go.



Students for Justice in Palestine are hosting another talk with Angela Davis on:

Wednesday May 14th

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