Activist and scholar Angela Y. Davis tied the struggle against mass incarceration to the abolitionist movement during slavery in a speech at N.C. Central University, saying “the essence of black history is the struggle for freedom.”
Davis was invited to campus as part of the university’s Rock the Mic speaker series sponsored by the Department of Student Engagement and Leadership in the Division of Student Affairs.
A civil rights activist who later became an advocate for prison inmates and a college professor, Davis said her dream is to one day live in a society that “no longer thrives on racism” and no longer disproportionately incarcerates people of color.
“What we are now experiencing is not new, even though people act like it just started to happen,” she said in reference to organizations such as Black Lives Matter and Dream Defenders that have been formed in recent years. “We are seeing a renewed dedication to what has been a long, black radical tradition.”
Black incarceration rates grew swiftly following the Civil War, she said.
More than 2 million people are behind bars in the United States, Davis said, and one out of every 35 adults is subject to some type of court or police order.
Today, the prison industry has largely become privatized and generates billions of dollars annually, making it difficult to reform or dismantle, she said.
Davis recently returned from a trip to Europe, where she met with members of the minority Basque community, recognizing that the struggle for human rights is an international issue.
Davis herself was incarcerated for 16 months in the early 1970s on accusations of assisting a deadly prison break. She was released after being found not guilty of charges.
Now a distinguished professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Davis said she was honored to be at NCCU because it is the oldest liberal arts college founded for African-Americans. She said both her parents attended historically black colleges; her father was a graduate of St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh.
Davis has a bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University, where she studied under philosopher Herbert Marcuse. She has a master’s degree from the University of California at San Diego and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Humboldt University of Berlin.
She is the author of nine books, including: “Angela Davis: An Autobiography; Women, Race, and Class,” “Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday,” and “The Angela Y. Davis Reader.”
Angela Davis: Did you know?
Angela Y. Davis came to national attention in 1969 after being removed from her teaching position in the Philosophy Department at UCLA as a result of her social activism and her membership in the Communist Party, USA.
In 1970 she was charged with murder and kidnapping in connection with a courthouse shootout that left a judge dead. Guns used in the shootout were registered in Davis’ name. She was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List and was the subject of an intense police search that drove her underground and culminated in one of the most famous trials in recent U.S. history. She was acquitted of all charges in 1972.
Former California Gov. Ronald Reagan once vowed that Davis would never again teach in the University of California system. Today she is Distinguished Professor Emerita in the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies Departments at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Source: Associated Press, The New York Times, University of California, Santa Cruz