Angela Davis Biography


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Primarily known as a political activist, Angela Davis began writing as a result of her activities within the Black Liberation movement of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Her work consistently explores the destructive influences of racism, sexism, and economic inequality on the development of African Americans, women, and the poor. Davis felt the full impact of racism beginning with her childhood, having been born and raised in segregated Birmingham. The racial inequality that prevailed particularly in the American South did much to shape her consciousness as an African American. In her autobiography, for example, she expresses her determination as a child to “never harbor or express the desire to be white” in spite of the fact that most whites lived what in comparison to hers was a privileged life.

Davis attended Elizabeth Irwin High School in New York. She studied philosophy at Brandeis University, the Sorbonne in Paris, the University of Frankfurt, and the University of California at San Diego. In 1968, she officially joined the Communist Party, having concluded that “the emancipation of all oppressed groups” could be achieved through the emancipation of the proletariat.

As a result of her membership in the Communist Party, the Board of Regents of the University of California fired Davis from her teaching position at UCLA in 1969; she was reinstated after a trial. Charged with murder and kidnapping in connection with an...

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(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

Early Life

Born in Birmingham, one of the centers of the Civil Rights movement, Angela Yvonne Davis became a participant in political struggles at an early age. She lived with her parents, B. Frank and Sallye E. Davis, in a segregated neighborhood and attended segregated public schools. She took part in civil rights demonstrations with her mother, and homes in her neighborhood were bombed by white supremacists. After her second year of high school, Davis won a scholarship to attend a private school in New York, and in 1961, she won a scholarship to attend Brandeis University.

The 1960’s

At Brandeis, Davis came into contact with Herbert Marcuse, a renowned Marxist philosophy professor, who convinced her that communism held the solution to African American oppression. After graduation in 1965, she studied in Germany and then earned a master’s degree at the University of California, San Diego. In San Diego, she became involved with several activist groups, including the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Black Panthers. She joined the Communist Party in 1968 and became active in a black communist group, the Che-Lumumba club. In 1969, Davis took a job as assistant professor at the University of California at Los Angeles. Her involvement in demonstrations and protests in Los Angeles drew attention to her Communist Party membership, and the university’s board of regents fired her. Davis won her job back after a court order but was denied tenure in 1970.


(The entire section is 623 words.)


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Author Profile

Davis grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, where her parents were involved with the National Association of Colored People and the Southern Negro Youth Congress. She received a scholarship to attend a progressive private high school on scholarship in New York, where she first attended Communist Party youth meetings. After graduating from Brandeis University with high honors with a degree in 1965, she did graduate work in modern philosophy at the University of Frankfurt, then returned to the United States and earned her masters degree from the University of California at San Diego.

In 1968 she joined the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) and worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Black Panther Party. The following year she was hired as an assistant professor at University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), where she was completing work on her doctoral dissertation. Citing a state law that prohibited Communist Party members from teaching at state universities, California’s Governor Ronald Reagan fired Davis. Davis took her case to the courts, where the law under which she was fired was declared unconstitutional. After being reinstated at UCLA, she was again fired in 1970 because of her outspoken support of Jonathan Jackson and George Jackson, the “Soledad Brothers,” radical African American prisoners in California’s Soledad prison. This time a university faculty committee ruled...

(The entire section is 495 words.)


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Angela Davis: An Autobiography, Angela Davis’ most notable literary work, is the personal narrative of her development as an African American and feminist political activist. The autobiography explores how the forces of institutionalized racism shaped her consciousness as an African American and compelled her to seek political solutions. Her personal account also explores how her experiences as a woman in a movement dominated by males affected her awareness of the special challenges African American women face in overcoming sexism and racism.

The autobiography opens not with Davis’ birth but with her flight from California legal authorities. She was charged with murder and kidnapping in relation to a failed escape attempt at a California courthouse. Her constant self-awareness as an African American woman attempting to evade discovery within an overwhelmingly white society underscores the problems African Americans have in establishing their identity. From the writer’s perspective, the charges against her stemmed not from a legal system that seeks justice but from a legal system that works to destroy those who fight to change the system.

As a child in racially segregated Birmingham, Alabama, Davis’ fight to establish such an identity began at an early age. Growing up on “Dynamite Hill,” a racially mixed neighborhood that acquired its name from the frequent bombings of African American residences, she was, as a child, aware...

(The entire section is 421 words.)