Dr. Angela Davis is known worldwide for her work to combat all forms of oppression as an activist, teacher, and writer. Dr. Davis’ political activism has strong roots to her upbringing in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1940s and 50s. Her experiences with racial prejudice and discrimination had a powerful impact on her and encouraged her to fight oppression. As a teenager, Dr. Davis set up interracial study groups that were broken up by local police. She also knew some of the girls killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.
During her junior year in high school, Dr. Davis participated in a program that allowed black students from the South to attend integrated schools in the North. Upon graduation, Dr. Davis attended Brandeis University on a scholarship where she was one of only three black students in her freshman class. Her involvement with the communist party soon prompted the FBI to question her about her affiliations. She continued her activism and went on to attend graduate school at the University of Frankfurt in Germany. She returned to the United States after the formation of the Black Panther Party and the transformation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
Dr. Davis began teaching at UCLA in 1969 and continued to be an activist by being a member of the Communist Party USA and an associate of the Black Panther Party. In 1970, Dr. Davis was charged with aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder in the death of Judge Harold Haley due to her alleged involvement in the purchase of the weapons used in the crime and her communication with one of the other suspects.
After spending a year in jail, Dr. Davis was released after having her bail paid following an international campaign calling for her release and declaring her innocence. She was eventually acquitted of the charges. It was this experience that has made Dr. Davis an outspoken critic of the prison-industrial complex and the American system of mass incarceration.
Dr. Davis has written several books, including, “Are Prisons Obsolete?” She considers herself an abolitionist rather than a prison reformer and implores people to consider whether or not the justice system is truly effective if the sharp rise of prisons in the United States has not seen crime significantly decrease.
The following video is an interview conducted by Reelblack conducted at Bryn Mawr College. Dr. Davis discusses her books on prison reform, the privatization of the prison industry, and the ineffectiveness of prison on crime.