In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Angela Davis was a crowning symbol of black, bold womanhood.
A brilliant scholar, Davis, who had studied Marxist theory in Germany and the U.S., came under fire as a UCLA professor when her membership in the Communist Party was revealed. Being a communist was so egregious at the time that then California Governor Ronald Reagan ordered her immediate dismissal and vowed that Davis would never teach in the University of California system again. Protests, however, saved her job and made her a national figure. Instead of shrinking back, however, Angela Davis turned it up.
Raised in Jim Crow Birmingham, Davis, who was born on January 26, 1944, grew up with injustice firsthand. She learned resistance from her activist mother and honored that spirit all throughout her adulthood. One of the first prominent figures to bring attention to the prison industrial complex, Davis, an active member of the Che-Lumumba Club, a black branch of the Communist Party, served as L.A. chair of the Soledad Brothers Defense Committee supporting three black male inmates accused of killing a prison guard.
An escape attempt during Soledad Brother George Jackson’s trial in Marin County, California, involving guns registered in Davis’s name resulted in four deaths. When police were unable to locate Davis, who had been romantically linked to George Jackson, she became only the third woman placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.
During the year and a half she spent in prison prior to her June 1972 acquittal, protests for her freedom erupted all over the globe. Her status as international human rights figure is captured in the Jada Pinkett Smith-produced, Shola Lynch-directed documentary Free Angela Davis and All the Political Prisoners, theatrically released in 2013.
Proving Ronald Reagan wrong, Davis resumed her academic career in the University of California system and continued her activism, co-founding Critical Resistance (a national anti-prison organization), twice running for vice-president through the Communist Party, authoring nine books dissecting race, gender and class and frequently lecturing on those topics domestically and internationally.
During the month of March, theGrio.com is honoring 10 Boss Black Women in History. The women on this list are pioneers and transformational figures. They embody the essence of black triumph and overcoming the odds.