Angela Davis Analysis

Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Angela Davis is a well-known radical activist who became famous in the early 1970’s. Since her time as a graduate student working with the philosopher Herbert Marcuse at the University of California at San Diego, she has worked for the rights of African Americans, prisoners, and others, eschewing the mainstream of the Civil Rights movement in favor of a radical, no-holds-barred critique of American society and institutions. She is a leading member of the U.S. Communist Party and the author of several books, including Women, Race, and Class (1981) and Women, Culture, and Politics (1989). She was fired from her teaching position at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) because of her Communist Party membership, an association that, in defiance of consequences, she never denied.

Angela Davis: An Autobiography is the story of Davis’s childhood and political education. Originally published in 1974, the year Davis turned thirty (and written when Davis was twenty-eight), the book focuses on her extended incarceration in New York and California prisons awaiting trial on charges of murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy. The book climaxes with the delivery of the verdict in Davis’s trial, held in San Jose, California.

Davis’s notoriety as a fugitive and activist (until she was found in New York and extradited for trial to California, her name was on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s list of the ten most wanted fugitives) made an autobiography timely and marketable. Though her youth caused her to hesitate to write such a book, she came to see it as a way to publicize the causes she believed in and to emphasize her involvement in a communal fight against oppression and racism. “I was not anxious to write this book,” she asserts in her preface. “Writing an autobiography at my age seemed presumptuous. . . . The one extraordinary event of my life had nothing to do with me as an individual—with a little twist of history, another sister or brother could have easily become the political prisoner whom millions of people from...

(The entire section is 855 words.)

Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Angela Davis, a socialist scholar and longtime activist for African American liberation, wrote Angela Davis: An Autobiography shortly after her acquittal on charges related to a 1970 Marin County, California, prison revolt. Davis had also been actively involved in the American Communist Party, the Black Panther Party, and the Soledad Brothers Defense Committee, an organization working to defend prison activist George Jackson and others against politically motivated murder charges related to another prison revolt. In principle opposed to “individual-focused” interpretations of history, Davis offers her autobiography not as a “personal” story but as a political autobiography of the time and the movements with which she was involved. In the process, she provides readers with significant insight into the complexity of her experience as an African American socialist during the intense period of black liberation politics in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Throughout the autobiography, Davis keeps a primary focus on the larger political, racial, and social issues of the day. She intertwines her own accounts of political work and prison experience with the lives of other women and men of the time who were working for revolutionary change in American society.

In a section entitled “Nets,” Davis opens the book with an account of her flight to avoid arrest following the Marin County revolt. She is eventually captured by police in New York City, and much...

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(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Angela Davis: An Autobiography both continues and alters the autobiographical tradition in African American women’s writing. By using the story of her life as a framework for social analysis, Davis follows in the literary footsteps of such noted American authors as Harriet A. Jacobs (Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, 1861), Ida B. Wells-Barnett (Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells, 1970), Zora Neale Hurston (Dust Tracks on a Road, 1942), and Maya Angelou (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 1970, followed by other autobiographical volumes). Additionally, Davis’ autobiography offers an interesting contrast and important opportunity for comparative reading with other autobiographies by African American women dealing with the politics of the Black Liberation movement and the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s. For example, Anne Moody’s Coming of Age in Mississippi (1968) and Elaine Brown’s A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story (1992) both offer differing perspectives on the same period. Together with Davis and many other African American writers (both women and men), these sources give an increasingly full and complex view of this critical era in African American and American history.

Unlike most other women writers in African American culture, however, Davis takes an explicitly socialist approach to her analysis of women’s experience....

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(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Aptheker, Bettina. The Morning Breaks: The Trial of Angela Davis. 2d ed. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1999. Detailed account of Davis’s trial and its role in her life and in American society.

Ashman, Charles R. The People vs. Angela Davis. New York: Pinnacle Books, 1972.

Braxton, Joanne M. Black Women Writing Autobiography. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989. This excellent volume offers literary and historical context for reading Davis’ book in the tradition of African American women’s autobiography. Does not address Davis specifically, but provides important background and interesting essays on Harriet Jacobs, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Era Bell Thompson, Zora Neale Hurston, and others.

Brisbane, Robert H. Black Activism: Racial Revolution in the United States, 1954-1970. Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1974. Gives a political analysis and historical overview of the Black Liberation movement, including full chapters on the Black Panther Party, Black Nationalism, and “Black Literature and the Black Revolution.” Important for more fully understanding the context of Angela Davis’ political work. Contains a very good bibliography of less well known sources for the period.

Davis, Angela Y. Women, Culture, and Politics. New York: Random House,...

(The entire section is 595 words.)