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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., April 19, 2001 — Political activist Angela Davis will lecture on “The Penal System and the ‘Disappearance’ of Problems” on Thursday, April 26, at 8 p.m. in the Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall in the Berhard Music Center. The event is free and open to the public.
Davis was born in 1944 in a Birmingham, Alabama neighborhood that was known as Dynamite Hill because there were so many Ku Klux Klan bombings there. She joined a Communist youth group after being influenced by her parents’ many Communist friends, and as a high school student she helped to organize interracial study groups that were broken up by the police. Davis then studied in Germany and at the University of Paris before returning to the United States and earning her B.A. from Brandies University in 1965. While pursuing her master’s degree at the University of California-San Diego, which she received in 1968, Davis began to closely study the Communist Party, and became a member of that group, as well as the Black Panthers, in 1968.
After teaching at the University of California-Los Angeles as an assistant professor of philosophy for one year, Davis’ radical associations resulted in her dismissal by the California Board of Regents despite her excellent record as an instructor. In 1970, she became only the third woman in history to appear on the FBI’s most wanted list. She was charged with conspiracy to free George Jackson, one of the so called Soledad (Prison) Brothers, when it was revealed that the guns used during a bloody shootout in front of the Hall of Justice in Marin County, CA were registered to her. During the two weeks Davis evaded the police, signs appeared in the windows of houses and business across the country proclaiming “Angela, sister, you are welcome in this house.” After eventually being captured in a Greenwich Village hotel, Davis spent sixteen months behind bars until she was acquitted on charges of murder and kidnapping by an all-white jury.
A collection of her essays, “If They Come in the Morning: Voices of Resistance,” in which she detailed her belief in Communist theory as well as her thoughts on racial oppression in the United States, was published after her release from prison in 1971. Her autobiography was published in 1980, and her most recent work, “Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday,” was published in 1998. She ran for vice-president on the Communist Party ticket in 1980 and 1984, and is currently professor of the history of consciousness at the University of California-Santa Cruz.
According to Ronald Taylor, professor of sociology and former director of the Institute for African-American Studies at the University of Connecticut, Davis is “one of the eloquent spokespersons today with respect to political matters. She has an ability to identify the factors in this country that contribute to social problems of one kind of another, whether we are talking about the number of people that end up in prison, or the conditions that perpetuate racial and gender inequality in this country.”
Davis’ lecture is the conclusion of a five-part series, “Trash,” sponsored by the Williams College Lecture Committee. The series began with film director John Waters’ “Shock Value” lecture; cartoonist Art Spiegelman, author of “Maus,” the Holocaust comic book for which he won the Pulitzer Prize; Mike Davis, a recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Prize and author of “Magical Urbanism,”; and Ira Glass, host and producer of public radio’s This American Life.