The Autobiography of Angela Davis is the story of a most intriguing little girl who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama and went on to become an iconic revolutionary known worldwide for her unrelenting commitment to socioeconomic and political justice for African-Americans and working-class people of all races in America and abroad. During the 1960s, Angela sought to put an end to the discrimination of Black people by doing what she did best, trusting her intuition. Angela relocated so she could acquire the best education possible and arm herself for her cause. This lifestyle led to a scholarship to attend Brandeis University in Boston, and later an opportunity to study with some of the best philosophers in the world at the University of Frankfurt in Germany. She was a member of the Communist party and the Black Panther Political Party because of her disdain for racism and capitalism, which she unequivocally believed was responsible for the oppression of Black Americans and low-income Whites. This autobiography takes you deep into the mind and life of a woman who was willing to put her life on the line for change. Her story is one of intelligence, courage, strength, freedom and even death. And because Ms. Davis has such a gift for writing, I am able to relive and understand how it must have felt to live in a “Jim Crow” society that did all it could to prevent extending the inalienable social, economic, and political rights that were due to all African Americans living in the United States.
Angela was in tune with the struggle of oppressed people from an early age. Born January 26, 1944, she was living in a time when being Black in America meant no voting rights, segregation from all public facilities, and, worst of all, lynching. You would not think a child would be aware of these things at such an early age, but her progressive thinking parents, who were both school teachers in the Birmingham public school system, made sure their daughter was astutely aware of all the danger that lurked in such a tumultuous time in American history. Her parents first noticed her gravitation towards oppressed people when she stood up for kids who were picked on by bullies in school. I guess you could say her affinity for social justice began at an early age. In fact, Angela was so anxious to live beyond the discriminatory rules of the South that she applied and was accepted into the American Friends Committee. The committee moved academically high achieving Southern kids to New York City where they could study in integrated schools. Although her family tried to persuade her to accept an early entrance to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where her father had done some grad work, her mind was made up. The opportunities in the North were just too tempting.
The fact that Angela finished high school in New York, got her undergrad in Boston and Paris and then her graduate degree in Frankfurt may give you the impression that Angela’s life was a privileged one, and in some cases it was. But, what you may not understand is that Angela was always yearning to get into the “fight” for social justice. She did not like being so far away from home when events like The Watts Riots and the assassination of Malcolm X were weighing heavy on the hearts of Black Americans. Being so far removed from the Black Liberation Movement “made her feel more like a spectator than the natural activist and revolutionary the world came to know.” While she studied in Germany, Angela lamented that “each day it was becoming clearer to me that my ability to accomplish anything was directly dependent on my ability to contribute something concrete to the struggle.” And it was this desire to make a difference that really touched my heart when I read this book. Here was a highly educated, personable, global woman whose hard work and talent could have easily gotten her a well-paying job just about anywhere in the world (she came back to the states to a teaching position at UCLA, but was later fired by Governor Ronald Reagan and the board of regents for being a member of the Communist party) but decided to forego notoriety and money for the greater cause of uplifting the living conditions of oppressed human beings in America, especially African-Americans.
Full of historical moments in our nation’s history, such as the Civil Rights Movement, Watts Riots, assassination of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., The Autobiography of Angela Davis will help you better understand one of the nation’s heroic civil rights fighters. Although the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion or sex, restoring voting rights, and desegregating schools, these laws were more “de jure” than “defacto.” Too often, Angela and her friends and acquaintances were harassed by police for being activists for justice and being members of the Black Panther Political Party as well as the Communist Party. The police would frequently follow her, ransack her office when she wasn’t around, or show up at meetings with guns drawn. There were even times when shots were fired. This book does a great job portraying just how dangerous it was to fight for your rights. I found myself saying plenty of times that Angela Davis was forced to live like a gangster in order to fulfill her mission in life without being killed. Ultimately, she was wanted by the police for murder and found herself on the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted List because of a shooting at the Marin County Courthouse that left a judge dead, a district attorney wounded and three acquaintances of Angela Davis’ dead. The murder weapons had been registered in Ms. Davis’ name so she was forced to flee for her life. I was immediately drawn into Angela’s life because of this incident and all the other madness she had to endure while fighting for the civil rights of millions of Black people and low-income Whites. I never knew about her being on the FBI’s most wanted list, going on the run (until she was later captured in New York City), being jailed for nearly two years, and finally being tried for a murder in Marin County. All I ever really knew about Angela Davis was that she was a member of the Black Panther Party, and even that information was a little off because she was a member of the Black Panther Political Party (BPPP) not to be confused with Huey P. Newton’s popular, Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Her brilliant life is much more than I ever imagined and after reading this book I see why she is so highly respected by millions of people worldwide.