Angela Yvonne Davis (born January 26, 1944) is an American political activist, scholar, and author. She emerged as a nationally prominent activist and radical in the 1960s, as a leader of the Communist Party USA, and had close relations with the Black Panther Party through her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement despite never being an official member of the party. Prisoner rights have been among her continuing interests; she is the founder of Critical Resistance, an organization working to abolish theprison-industrial complex. She is a retired professor with the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and is the former director of the university’s Feminist Studies department.
On August 7, 1970 Jonathan Jackson, a heavily armed, 17-year-old African American high school student, gained control over a courtroom in Marin County, California. Once in the courtroom, Jackson armed the black defendants and took Judge Harold Haley, the prosecutor, and three female jurors as hostages. As Jackson transported the hostages and two black convicts away from the courtroom, the police began shooting at the vehicle. The judge, one of the jurors, the prosecutor, and the three black men were killed in the melee. Davis had purchased the firearms used in the attack, including the shotgun used to kill Haley, which had been purchased two days prior and sawed off. She had also written numerous letters found in the prison cell of one of the murderers. Since California considers “all persons concerned in the commission of a crime, whether they directly commit the act constituting the offense… principals in any crime so committed,” San Marin County Superior Judge Peter Allen Smith charged Davis with “aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder in the death of Judge Harold Haley” and issued a warrant for her arrest. Hours after the judge issued the warrant on August 14, 1970 a massive attempt to arrest Angela Davis began. On August 18, 1970, four days after the initial warrant was issued, the FBI director J. Edgar Hoover made Angela Davis the third woman and the 309th person to appear on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List.
Across the nation, thousands of people who agreed with her declaration began organizing a liberation movement. In New York City, black writers formed a committee called the Black People in Defense of Angela Davis. By February 1971 more than 200 local committees in the United States, and 67 in foreign countries worked to liberate Angela Davis from prison. Thanks, in part, to this support, in 1972 the state released her from prison. After spending 18 months behind bars, Davis was acquitted of all charges by an all-white jury.
In 1980 and 1984, Davis ran for Vice-President along with the veteran party leader of the Communist Party, Gus Hall. However, given that the Communist Party lacked support within the US, Davis urged radicals to amass support for the Democratic Party. Revolutionaries must be realists, said Davis in a telephone interview from San Francisco where she was campaigning. During both of the campaigns she was Professor of Ethnic Studies at the San Francisco State University. In 1979 she was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize from the Soviet Union for her civil rights activism. She visited Moscow in July of that year to collect the prize.