Radical Commitments | Childhood, Case, and Social Contributions || Radcliffe Institute


– I’m Elizabeth Hinton, chair
of the conference committee, and now I would like to invite
to the stage the panelists for our opening conversation
moderated by my dear colleague, Henry Lewis Gates, Jr. Henry
Lewis Gates is a Alphonse Fletcher, Jr. University
professor in the faculty of Arts and Sciences and
director of the Hutchins Center for African and African-American
research at Harvard. We are all here in no small
part thanks to Professor Gates. And one of the most important
things the Hutchins Center has done is to put up half
the funds to acquire the papers of Angela Y. Davis. [APPLAUSE] Thank you, Skip. Professor Gates will be joined
by Fania E. Davis, consultant and founding Director
[? Emerita ?] of Restorative Justice
for Oakland Youth, and sister of Angela Davis. Margaret Burnham, university
distinguished professor of law and director of the Civil
Rights and Restorative Justice project, Northeastern
University School of Law, who has known Angela Davis
since they were both children in Birmingham and served as
one of Angela Davis’s lawyers during her trial. And Bettina Aptheker,
distinguished professor and University of California
presidential co-chair and feminist, critical race and
ethnic studies, UC Santa Cruz, and Angela Davis’s
co-author and colleague. Skip, I will hand it over to
you and invite the panelists to come to the stage. [APPLAUSE] – Great. Thank you, dear. Where do you want me to sit? – Jessica wants to
be on this side. – You want me over here? – Yeah, I guess. – Beautiful. Is this on? Great. Please give it up,
Terry Lynn Carrington. [APPLAUSE] [LAUGHS] That was amazing. I’m Henry Lewis Gates,
Jr., and it’s my pleasure to be with you
here this afternoon for the opening panel
of radical commitments, the life and legacy
of Angela Davis. Give it up for
Angela Davis please. [APPLAUSE] A conference organized
by my dear colleague, Professor Elizabeth Hinton. Give it up for
Professor Hinton please. [APPLAUSE] And I also want to acknowledge
two other individuals and two institutions, Radcliffe
Dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin– [APPLAUSE] –and Jane Kamensky, Carl and
Lily Pforzheimer Foundation, Director of the
Schlesinger Library. [APPLAUSE] As well as, of course, the
staffs of both the Schlesinger Library and the
Radcliffe Institute for making this
conference possible. Please give it up to the set,
especially Becky Wasserman. [APPLAUSE] [LAUGHS] We’ve gathered here today to
mark an historic occasion, the acquisition of the
papers of Angela Y. Davis by the Schlesinger Library
at Radcliffe in the Hutchins Center. Those papers are now
available for use by scholars and researchers. Oh, Friday, those papers
will be available– [LAUGHS] for use by scholars and
researchers on Friday at 9:00 AM. Is that the right time? OK, great. [LAUGHS] Interest in Angela
Davis’s life and legacy has never been greater
or more relevant to where unfortunately, we find
ourselves in this country today. We needed you then, Angela. We need you more today. [APPLAUSE] Now, I’ve admired Angela ever
since Herbert Marcuse mentioned her as his most
brilliant student. Now, I had become acquainted
with Marcuse’s work as an undergraduate
at Yale when I was assigned the 1960 edition
of his classic 1941 text, Reason in Revolution. But as a [INAUDIBLE] by a
political science professor named Isaac Kramnick. Now, although his 1955
Arrows in Civilization is more widely read, no doubt
because of the word arrows in the title, it was
the other volume, in particular Marcuse’s
preface to the 1960 edition that transformed my own
understanding of revolution is rational and strategic,
not irrational or spontaneous. Believe it or not, we were
studying Reason in Revolution precisely when Bobby Seale
was on trial for murder in the New Haven courthouse
just a block away from our classroom. I’ll get to Erica in a minute. [LAUGHS] In 1969, along
with Erica Huggins. Now, the connection
between Davis and Macuse becomes clearest perhaps in
the preface to the 1960 edition in which Marcuse
claims that the purpose of dialectical or
negative thinking is to expose and then overcome
by revolutionary action the contradictions
by which advanced industrial societies
are constituted. And thank you, the Stanford
Encyclopedia of Philosophy for refreshing my memory. Now, this idea encompasses
both the dominant social and
psychological mechanisms employed to ingrain such
contradictions of wealth and poverty of freedom
and incarceration in a capitalist society. It is these
mechanisms that Davis has sought to dismantle,
ladies and gentlemen, for her entire career. And we are all indebted to
you, Angela, for doing that. [APPLAUSE] In fact, Angela Davis is one of
the major political theorists of the last century. And whether one agrees
with her opinions or not, there is no gain saying
her prominent place in the history of American
political thought. Her critique of the prison
system, for instance, and its effects on the
African-American community was prophetic. You got there long before
so many, many others did. Her case was for some of us a
primer in criminal injustice. We were concerned about
how the criminal justice system was treating her. Numerous black intellectuals
and black intellectual life in general were inspired by
those momentous days and months surrounding your arrest, your
incarceration, and eventually, your trial. My own intellectual growth
was sparked by you, for sure. Because of you, I actually
enrolled in a philosophy course and quickly discovered
that I was not meant to be a philosopher. [LAUGHTER] And when I returned to Yale
after a year abroad in Africa, I proudly hung a free Angela
poster on my dorm room wall right next to posters urging
us to free Bobby, free Erica, and free Mandela. When I would later
eventually, to my amazement, actually meet Angela
Davis, I learned that Angela Davis, like
Erica, like Bobby, like Nelson Mandela, had always been free. [APPLAUSE] I wasn’t the only one captivated
by her power of thought and courage in action. As some of you may know, the
great and now heartbreakingly late Toni Morrison worked
closely with Angela when Morrison was still toiling
on the editorial side at Random House. Looking back at their
friendship years later, Morrison said working with
Angela was “sui generous, and I didn’t just edit her book. I went on her book
tour with her. I was her handler, all over it.” She said this was, “before
I was Toni Morrison.” [LAUGHTER] She continues, “We were in
Scandinavia at one point, and I was a good handler. People would come up to
her, my brother’s in prison, I was wondering could we have
a cocktail party to raise some money for him?”. And the thing was, Angela
would stop and listen and say, where is he? And I would say, Angela,
come on, we’re late. [LAUGHS] Before you say the
same about this introduction, let me advance our– [LAUGHTER] Let me advance our program
toward the main event. We’ll begin with
opening statements from each of our three
panelists in a moment. But first, I’d like to
recognize someone very special to me and to many people
in the audience tonight. And that is Professor
Dorothy Burnham. Dorothy is, in many
ways, the mother of many of the participants
of our program. And at the age of 104,
ladies and gentlemen, 104– [APPLAUSE] –is definitely– [APPLAUSE] [LAUGHS] Yep, that’s you. She is the matriarch
of a long line of incredibly strong women. A civil rights and feminist
activist, as well as microbiologist, Dorothy Burnham
worked in the Southern Negro Youth Congress in Birmingham
with Angela Davis’s parents, Sally and Frank, coordinating
sit-ins, freedom rides, and voter registration
drives, and working to integrate public
transportation systems in public institutions. Later, she was also
active in Women for Racial and
Economic Equality, Sisters Against South African
Apartheid, Genes and Gender, and Women’s International
League for Peace and Freedom. Her dedication and work deeply
inspired her four children, Claudia, Margaret, who
is part of our panel, Linda and Charles, as well
as the four Davis children, Angela, Ben, Fania, and Reggie. A tireless teacher, activist,
humanitarian, and mother, Dorothy Burnham’s long
advocacy for social justice has influenced and improved
the lives of countless people. Ladies and gentlemen, give
it up for Dorothy Burnham. [APPLAUSE] That’s great. Thank you, and now, we will
go to the opening statements starting with Fania Davis. Thank you, sir. You’re quite welcome. Maybe can you help me
with this microphone? There you go. Oh, it’s on. It’s– you can hear me, great. An African proverb
says those who go before us make us who we are. Dorothy was a significant
radicalizing influence in my sister’s life. Honoring her is the perfect
way to open this conference. This beloved centenarian is
one of the last living black radicals of her generation. Dotty, our mother’s
best friend, is also a mother of our movement
as was said earlier. Tonight, my mother
is beside her. The seed– [APPLAUSE] The seed planted and
cultivated decades ago by these two
phenomenal black women instilled in Angela the belief
we could create a better world. And this seed has developed
into the towering radical black feminist and abolitionist
Angela is today. Many radicalizing elements
nurtured that seed. Being born and coming
of age in Bombingham with all its bombings meant
to terrorize activists in the rising civil rights
movement, living atop Dynamite Hill, a neighborhood targeted
because black families dared move into this all white area. As a child, being awakened
by dynamite blasts demolishing nearby
homes, the sight of our father grabbing
his gun to protect his family from racial
terrorists lurking nearby. Suffering the loss of
two of my closest friends in the 1963 Birmingham Sunday
school bombing, learning to read our first words,
colored and white, on the signs of bathroom
doors and water fountains in Birmingham. Playing games that were
acts of resistance, forced to climb the back stairs
and sit in the balcony of the local theater, we threw
popcorn and poured Coca-Cola onto white heads below. [LAUGHTER] Crossing the racial
dividing line, we’d ring the doorbell
of a white person’s home, and then run back
across the street as fast as possible to escape
before the door opened. Another, Angela and I
were learning French, and while downtown
one day, we pretended to be French speaking
people from Martinique. Using the French accent,
we inquired about shoes in an upscale store. The clerk seated us in
the front of the store and rolled out the red carpet. After a few minutes
of trying on the shoes and communicating in strained
English, we burst out laughing. The clerks laughed
along politely, then asked what’s so funny. In our black southern
English, we replied, all us black people got
to do is pretend we from another country, and you
treat us like we dignitaries. [LAUGHTER] We laughed our way
out of the store. The seeds of black radicalism
planted in Bombingham were nurtured steadily and began
growing into a strong tree. Angela attended a progressive
high school in New York, became active in a
youth group allied with the Communist Party,
engaged in solidarity actions with the rising
sit-in movements, attended Marxist lectures by
historian Herbert Aptheker, read the Communist
Manifesto, studied revolutionary
political philosophy with Herbert
Marcuse at Brandeis, pursued critical theory
graduate studies in Frankfurt, taught Marxist
philosophy at UCLA while enduring hundreds of
threats, death threats, daily, engaged in a community
organizing with the Black Panther Party and Che-Lumumba
Club, an all black collective of the Communist
Party, led a campaign to free prison activist
George Jackson and the Soledad brothers. She was then fired by
Governor Ronald Reagan for this radical activism. When the court
overruled the firing, the state targeted
her for execution. Capital kidnapping,
conspiracy, and murder charges arose out of the events
of August 7, 1970 when George Jackson’s
brother, Jonathan, took over a court room
with guns in Marin County, freed prisoners, took
hostages, demanded the freedom of his brother, and
attempted to escape in a van. Firing a hail of
bullets into it, officers killed Jonathan,
two prisoners, and the judge. Jonathan’s guns were
registered in Angela’s name, and the state seized upon
this to prosecute and attempt to eliminate her. After two months underground on
the FBI’S 10 most wanted list, Angela was captured. President Nixon
immediately publicly cheered and branded
Angela a terrorist. From that day forward, we,
her family, and comrades worked nonstop with
countless others building an international
movement formidable enough to save my sister’s life. Along with me, seasoned
black communist organizers such as Charlene Mitchell,
Franklin and Kendra Alexander, and Latinx organizer
Victoria Mercado– and can we just honor them, the
last three our ancestors now? Can we just honor them? – Sure. [APPLAUSE] – They all played leading roles. We assembled an amazing,
mostly black, legal team, including Margaret with Bettina
as legal advisor and historian. The Communist Party activated
its impressive global network, mobilizing millions. During the 20 months
after Angela’s arrest, I ceaselessly spoke and
organized throughout many US cities and the world. My baby, Angela Issa,
right over there was only three months old when
leaving her with my mother, I went on tour to speak
to hundreds of thousands at demonstrations in Montreal,
London, Berlin, Helsinki, Rome, Moscow, Santiago de Chile,
and many other cities, including a mobilization
of 60,000 in Paris. And you’ve seen those images,
I believe, in the exhibit. The cry to free
Angela reverberated throughout the world. Millions of ordinary people
mobilized themselves, black women, butchers, fighters,
teachers, electricians, black police officers, even
Appalachian coal miners for Angela. Free Angela stickers and
Angela afros were omnipresent. How many of you had
Angela afros out there? All right. [LAUGHS] Musicians
dedicated songs. We heard some of them. And playwrights, plays. Schoolchildren launched massive
letter writing campaigns. Celebrities stepped up
like Aretha Franklin, who offered to put up
$250,000 in bail, saying she didn’t
believe in communism, but believed in freedom
for black people just like Angela did. The spectacular free Angela
and all political prisoners movement enriched the soil for
the tree who sees in fruits became the prisoners’
rights anti-mass incarceration and abolitionists
and other organizations of today. Also, today’s transformative and
restorative justice movements, of which I am a part, are fruits
of the abolitionist impulse to create alternatives
to the carceral state. Though many have researched
the movements Angela helped engender, few have written about
the movement that freed her, making possible its
progeny, movements that today are growing
their own trees. With the Schlesinger Library’s
acquisition of Angela’s papers, this will change. So from the seeds of her
beginnings in Bombingham, a great tree has
come forth, one that has engendered new seedlings
and the magnificent burgeoning movements of young
people of our time. And so it is from childhood
to family, to community, to adulthood, to elder hood,
and then back again, the return of the ancestors tracing the
spiral of life and the never ending quest for freedom. – Thank you. Oh, that’s fabulous. [APPLAUSE] That’s great. Margaret? – Thank you. Thank you, Fania. Thank you so much. I want to first of all,
thank the organizers of this conference, thank
the Schlesinger Library, and the Radcliffe Institute,
and the Huggins Institute for this historic acquisition
and for this conference. I want to acknowledge Fania’s
recognition of our parents, Louis and Dorothy Burnham,
and Sally and B. Frank Davis, and Herb and Fan Aptheker, and
the Pattersons as well, William Patterson and Louise Patterson. [APPLAUSE] When you’re a kid, you don’t
know who your parents are in the world, and then
you get in the world, there are people who tell you
what to do and what not to do. But then you get
out in the world, and you realize, oh,
that’s who they are. [LAUGHTER] And the Davises and the Burnhams
had a very close friendship, especially the women. Not so much the guys, but
certainly Sally and my mother had a very close and
enduring and long friendship. And we finally
realized that it was a bond that was forged
in fire in Alabama, in their work in Alabama. And we were a rambling bunch
of eight kids from Birmingham to Brooklyn. And out of that, our
friendships blossomed. And certainly when Angela was
arrested in October of 1970, I went to the jail
to see my friend. So I was at that point a lawyer. We were both in our mid 20s. And as I think back on
that work and the case, I really see three different
phases of the case. The first I would call
Angela, the prisoner, and the second Angela,
the political prisoner, and the third Angela,
the political icon. So the first phase was
really Angela’s period of incarceration at the
women’s house of detention in New York, which lasted
just about three months. But until you’ve been in
prison, you don’t know prison, you don’t know the silence,
you don’t know the noise, you don’t know the dirt, you
don’t know the community. You know nothing. You can talk about it,
you can theorize about it, but Angela was
actually in prison. And it was those
three months really that shaped, informed her,
put prison in her bones and in her blood in a way
that could not otherwise have happened. And I say she was Angela,
the prisoner because it was a period of time in which
she was not in solitary. She was in that community. She saw those women, she worked
with them, she slept with them, she ate with them,
she pained with them. And that has
informed and bleated through all of her work since
those months in New York City. After that, the next
period that I would bracket would be her period in
solitary confinement when she was in Marin Prison
first and then in San Jose for a period of over 11 months. And I call that her Angela, the
political prisoner because she relied so heavily on
people like George Jackson to learn how to live in
solitary confinement. And it was George who said,
you exercise for five hours, you sleep for three hours,
you study, and you read and you write for all
the remaining hours. And that’s what Angela did. That’s what she did. And she grew her voice,
she grew her confidence. And she began talking not just
about prisoners in California, but prisoners all over the
country and all over the world. The third period I would call
Angela, the political icon. And it relates back to what
Fania has talked about, the movement that we
grew over from the moment of her incarceration until
the moment of her freedom. And when she got
out of jail, we had the wind at our back
because of that movement. And it was a point at
which Angela, too, agreed, I’m not going back to jail,
I’m free, I want to be free. And we knew at that point,
that if we kept pushing, that she would– and until
bail, we did not know it, but once we got that bail
and once she got out– and for I have to– this is I’m
telling stories out of school now. But we’re all family here. So when she got out, she put the
books down for a little while. She wasn’t reading,
she wasn’t writing, she was listening
to Herbert Hancock. [LAUGHTER] She was in the street. My girl was in the street
for a little while. She was enjoying her life,
and she wasn’t going back. [APPLAUSE] – Hey, that’s great. – She wasn’t going back. [APPLAUSE] So when I think
about my own role in this case from the
very inception as Angela’s longtime friend and
then as her lawyer, I thought my role was
really to keep her mind set on her own freedom. Because as I think back on
it, in those initial days in the house of
detention, I think really Angela didn’t really see the
light at the end of the tunnel, that she saw that this
was going to be lifetime incarceration or
the electric chair, that those were the options. And our job as her lawyers,
as her friends, as her family was to get her to believe
that we could win this, that we could do this, that
she could be out here 50 years later, seven or
eight books later, and be the voice of our
movement for 50 years. Our job was to get
her to believe that. Now, I just want to finish
up by reading two statements that Angela made to show the
distance that we had to travel and that she had to travel. Here’s her statement in October
of 1970, “The bourgeois”– she had just been arrested. “The bourgeois press seized
upon my recent capture by the federal
pigs as an occasion to inject more
confusion into the minds of the American public. Regardless of what
degrees I have, regardless of my
external appearance and my physical makeup,
the reality is this, the reactionary pig
forces of this country have chosen to
persecute me because I am a communist revolutionary
participating together with millions of
oppressed people in a revolutionary
movement to overthrow all the conditions that stand
in the way of our freedom.” All true, all strong,
all beautiful, not speaking to
any jurors who were going to be on our jury
in Santa Clara County. September 22, 1971,
here’s Angela’s statement. “I write on the eve of trial. As that date draws
near, the need to ensure judicial fairness and
bail in order that I may better prepare my defense becomes
increasingly urgent. While we may disagree
on many things, we are surely united
in our affirmation of principles of due process
and equality before the law. Millions of people
throughout the world of all political persuasions and
national and racial origin have voiced their concern over
the fairness of my trial.” And then she cites to support
statement from the California federation of teachers. So if you think about
those two statements, how did we get there? Angela carried herself
there, number one, and the movement
carried her there. She knew that she had
a deep responsibility to all of those who had thrown
down their lot with her. And she threw them down
her lot with them as well. I just want to conclude
with a vignette from my time with Angela
at the Marin County Jail. She had a cell, a writing
cell and a living cell. They were both jail cells, but
her books were all lined up on it was a double– what do you call bed? And her books were lined up
on both sides of the bunk bed, and then she had
little desk in there. And Bettina and I and Fania
spent more hours in there than we really care to tell you. On one of those
occasions, it was usually one of the three of
us it was usually one of the girls who went in. And on one of those
key occasions, we took all kinds of
people in, her friends. And on one of those
occasions, I picked up John Conyers from San
Francisco, and he wanted to go out and see Angela. And so the congressman and
I get to the place where you give your ID and you
tell them who you are, your date of birth and all that,
and he reaches in his pocket, and he says, I didn’t
bring any ID with me. I’m a congressman. [LAUGHTER] I’m like, John, you’re kidding. We’re trying to get in to
see the most famous prisoner in the world. Where’s your ID? [LAUGHTER] Long story short, we
begged, we pleaded. I think that maybe they
made a call to Washington, but John Conyers came in. And we had a lovely
visit with Angela. And after that, he issued
a marvelous statement. And he was a friend of
Angela’s and of our committee NUCFAD for years thereafter. – Beautiful. – Thank you. – Thank you. Thank you so much. [APPLAUSE] Beautiful. Bettina, Bettina Aptheker. – We’re dropping stuff here. [LAUGHS] Well, I’m
feeling very emotional. It is a joy to be
here this evening and to have been invited
to be on this panel and to partake of the
richness of this conference, and I thank you. OK, I’m together. [LAUGHS] – Take your time. – Angela, Margaret, and I first
met each other as children. Our families intertwined through
our parents’ radical and shall we say subversive activities. [LAUGHTER] When the three of us
were in high school, all of us living in
Brooklyn, we were members of a socialist youth
organization called Advance. It was a very optimistic title. [LAUGHTER] This was in the late
1950s, early 1960s. We met in the basement
of my parents’ home. The part of the
basement where we met was finished and furnished. The other part had a cement
floor, a washing machine, and a clothesline, and
all the way in the rear was the boiler room. Under the clothesline,
there were rows of metal filing cabinets. These contained the
papers of WEB DuBois. He and Shirley Graham-DuBois
were soon to depart for Ghana. In that time of McCarthyism
and house committees on un-American activities
and virulent racism and anticommunism,
no university library would touch DuBois’s papers. He left them with
my father until they could be properly housed
in a university library, should such a time ever come. These are the papers that now
fill the archive of the WEB DuBois Library at the University
of Massachusetts Amherst. [APPLAUSE] In this way ever so young,
I learned a powerful lesson about the significance
of archives, a treasure trove of incalculable value. What a gift the
radical commitment it is today for the
Schlesinger Library to house the papers
of Angela Davis. – Amen. [APPLAUSE] – Angela was arrested on the
FBI 10 most wanted list warrant on October 13, 1970. Five weeks later,
many of you may recall that James Baldwin
wrote an open letter to my sister, Angela Davis. Quote, “The enormous revolution
in black consciousness which has occurred
in your generation”– sorry, “in your
generation, my dear sister, means the beginning
or the end of America. Some of us, white
and black, know how great a price
has already been paid to bring it into existence. A new consciousness,
a new people, an unprecedented nation. If we know and do
nothing, we are worse than the murderers
hired in our name. If we know, then we
must fight for your life as though it were
our own and render impassible with our bodies
a card to the gas chamber. For if they take
you in the morning, they should be coming for us
that night, therefore peace.” Brother James. Angela was incarcerated
for about 485 days– I actually counted
before she was finally released on bail February
23, 1972, which also happens to be Dr. DuBois’s birthday. [LAUGHS] – That’s true. – And five days before the
start of her trial, in that time she studied and
wrote and published an astonishing body of work. Together, Angela and I
compiled and edited a book called If They Come in the
Morning, Voices of Resistance. How we managed to do this
without being able to exchange papers unless the lawyers
were there, as Margaret was describing, and drafts
of essays with each other and often a plexiglass barrier
between us is another story. In her opening essay,
Political Prisoners, Prisons, and Black Liberation,
Angela began to redefine who was
a political prisoner. Of course, she referenced Nat
Turner and John Brown and Dr. DuBois as in the mid
20th century was arrested and scores of others as
classic examples of what is meant by a
political prisoner. But she also observed quote,
“prisoners, especially blacks, Chicanos, and Puerto
Ricans are increasingly advancing the
proposition that they are political prisoners in the
sense that they are largely the victims of an oppressive
politico economic order, swiftly becoming conscious
of the causes underlying the victimization”. We documented the trials of Huey
Newton, Erica Huggins, Bobby Seale, Ruchell Magee, the
Soledad brothers, and so on using their own voices
with their own words. Here then Angela had already
begun to call attention to the politics of
mass incarceration and the articulation of the
prison abolition movement. The book was translated
into dozens of languages and published all
over the world. At the same time, Angela was
writing a definitive essay called The Reflections
of Black Women’s Role in the Community of Slaves
published in the Black Scholar in December
1971 and dedicated to the memory of George Jackson. In it, she challenged the
then quite popular idea of the black woman as matriarch
as a collaborator in her own and her community’s enslavement. Quote, “The designation of
the black woman as a matriarch is a cruel misnomer. It is a misnomer because
it implies stable kinship structures within which
the mother exercises decisive authority. It is cruel because it
ignores the profound traumas the black woman must
have experienced when she had to surrender
her childbearing to alien and predatory
economic interests.” Angela went on to
discuss and document black women’s resistance,
redefining resistance, and building it into
the everyday lives of the enslaved community. Here in this essay,
Angela helped inaugurate what was to become
the ground shattering field of black feminist studies. Invited to give a paper
for a symposium sponsored by the Society
for the American– this is a mouthful,
the Philosophical Study of Dialectical Materialism. [LAUGHTER] You remember that? Oh, gosh, OK. [LAUGHTER] At the American Philosophical
Association Convention in New York in
December 1971, Angela wrote a 60 page manuscript
called Women and Capitalism, Dialectics of Oppression
and Liberation. Juliet Mitchell, the
British socialist feminist who had written a book
on women’s liberation called The Longest Revolution
was Angela’s co-presenter. Angela, of course, was in jail. I presented a
portion of the paper as best I could in the 20
minutes allotted to me. [LAUGHTER] The hall where we spoke was
packed with hundreds of people. A speaker phone was set up. We telephoned Angela in
the judge’s chambers. The judge had agreed
to this, which was in itself simply amazing. And in this manner, folks asked
their questions and Angela responded. It was one of the most dramatic,
moving, astounding experiences for all of us. Hushed into an awed silence,
listening to her voice, the voice of a brilliant
intellectual shamefully imprisoned. Angela’s prisons
writings are too much to enumerate beyond
what I’ve done here, but in each carefully
considered work are the prescient seeds of the
subjects for this conference, revolution, feminism,
and abolition. After a trial that lasted
a little over three months, Angela was found not
guilty on all counts. It was June 4, 1972. News of the verdict was
broadcast around the world. In Los Angeles, members of the
Angela Davis Defense Committee ran through the
neighborhood with bullhorns announcing the verdict. Traffic stopped, people
rushed from their homes. A few miles away in
Watts, Democratic Party presidential hopeful
George McGovern addressed an election
rally of several thousand. The news swept
through the crowd. A chant started way
in the back and rolled into a thunderous wave, power
of the people set Angela free. – Beautiful, beautiful. [APPLAUSE] Give it up for our panelists. That’s fabulous. Thank you. Thank you. Fania and Margaret,
how do you think going to school in the
South and then in the North had an effect on Angela? Particularly on a
critical distance, giving her a critical
distance on the country and the central story of race,
gender, and justice in it that are her signature. Was that move important? And it was a move
that you made as well? For both of you. Yes. – Yes, it was really important. Angela always had her eyes
on another way of being, another society, another
social arrangement. And I think one of the things
that she found when she went up North was that there was
racism and discrimination and oppression there, too. So I imagine it
probably expanded her notion of what freedom
means from perhaps freeing her people from racism
in the South to freeing black people everywhere
and then to freeing women and other people of color. So I imagine that that
move from the South had a huge impact
on her in that way. And also she was able in her
exposure to Marxist theory, to revolutionary theory,
was able to articulate what was wrong and what was
needed very importantly. – Great, thanks. Margaret? – Well, I would just add that
I don’t think it was just the relationship between
her time in the South and her time in New
York City, in Brooklyn, but also was her travels
during her college years to France and
Germany that created an international humanist that– and the South was very
much a part of that. The South was kind of the
core or the background, the hard core of that. But ultimately being able
to spread out and understand the commonality
across continents, across geographical
space, across time periods with this grounding in
the South was very important. – Margaret, looking
back, is there anything that you would have done
or handled differently with Angela’s case? I mean, the result
was spectacular, but I’m just curious
and in retrospect. – This is going to
sound weird, but I don’t think so because
well, let me just say that Angela played
a really critical part in her own defense. She worked carefully with the
lawyers, she learned the law, she presented the law, she
spoke on her own behalf, gave an opening
statement and closing and examined witnesses
on her own behalf. So and we moved her
from that statement that she made in October of
1970, which was not designed really, as I say, to open up a
space so that we could actually make a case on her behalf. But so having– so
she got really deep. She’s an intellectual,
so jury selection, oh, I want to know all about it. Voir dire, what does that mean? How do we do it? I mean, so she was deeply
involved in all aspects. It was a truly collective
defense in that sense, and that’s– so when I say I don’t
think we made any mistakes, I will also say that
she listened to us. But we also had to listen
to her and be guided by her. And that presented some very
challenging choices for us as lawyers where with a
client less determined to carry about a public
defense in a particular way, we would not have
been concerned about. And let me just
give one example. At the very inception
of the case, of course, Angela’s case was tied to
that of Ruchell Magee, who had been part of the events in
San Rafael in August of 1970 that led ultimately
to Angela’s arrest. That was challenging. We didn’t know what
kind of defense he was going to present, and
we didn’t know to what extent it would help or hurt our case. Angela insisted
that we handle that with as a political matter,
not simply as a legal matter, but that we look at the
political implications of that joint defense. And I could give
many other examples. – Let me ask the
three of you, you’re all like sisters to her
in one way or another, but I’ve always
been curious, too. I’ve known you for a long
time, and I knew your father. And I know your
daughter as my student. But I’ve always wanted
to ask the three of you a personal question. What did you learn, if
anything, about Angela by watching her go
through this experience? And what might those of us
outside miss about this story when we read about it
in the history books? Could you break it
down for us, Bettina? [LAUGHTER] – Because I haven’t
spoken before. Well, we saw each other
I think almost every day when you were in jail. I think I was out there
pretty much every day. And Angela’s capacity to focus
with that razor intellect was something I hadn’t quite
seen before in that way. Stamina, tremendous stamina
under enormous pressure from all directions
and all different kinds of ways, which is connected
to the focus and then her remarkable compassion. There was an
incident with my son, who was only three years old
at the time and something that happened at school. And he said something
very inappropriate, but he didn’t know that. And what it was really about
was that I was never home. He was barely three,
and I was gone. And who was Angela? It was like this figment
or something, phantom. And she made him
for Christmas, she knitted a cap, a little
hat and a scarf for him and wrapped it up. And I brought it home,
and I said to him, this is from Angela. And when she got out on
bail, she came to our house. We lived in San
Jose, so our house was sort of the
center of everything. Fania lived with us. And when I came– I came in after Angela,
Angela was there first, and I came in afterwards. And Margaret’s son, Hollis,
was sitting on one knee and Joshua was on
the other knee. And they were at the dining
room table as I remember. And they boys had this
beautiful grin on their faces. They were like
lit up like trees. And I thought to myself,
yes, Angela has finally come to visit Joshua. – Oh, beautiful, beautiful. Margaret? – Well, I would say leadership. I would second everything
that Bettina’s just said, but I would also say that when
this case started, Angela, she was not a global leader. And she became that,
and she took that on with a kind of,
as Bettina says, compassion and
dignity and honesty. That is what transformed this
case and also made her story. A lot of other people
would have shunned it, would not have
known how to handle it, would have had more ego
than was required for that. She had exactly
the right amount. I have a position. I have a hard core, and I mean
that in the very best sense of the term. I have a hard core. I’m not deviating from
that, but I’m also flexible. And so she was– it was that kind of
leadership that emerged over the course of the
trial I think that was, for me, most impressive. Now, let me just, one example. Handling the press,
Angela once told me, and I’ve never forgotten
it that doesn’t matter what question the
reporter asks you, you have an answer you give. – Right, right. – But those kinds of things that
made her own her words I think were very, very unusual. – Beautiful. Fania? – It’s kind of a
hard question for me to answer because I’m so close. But I would say that her
constant refrain I am who I am because of this movement. It is not me that
they are targeting. It is not me who has
the ear of the world. It is the movement,
and every time she had the opportunity,
that yeah, that was– and I kept hearing that. I still hear that now. And we were talking,
I was talking to someone about the South
and how the South, just being an African-American growing up
in the 50s and 60s in the South can itself be radicalizing. And then we started to talk
about Condoleezza Rice. Well, actually she– – Who grew up with you. – Who grew up with us. She went to a rival high
school, and she knew– [LAUGHTER] – Well, you might say she still
goes to a rival high school. [LAUGHTER] – She might, she might. She knew two of the girls that
were killed in the bombing, and we knew the other two. And I was talking to this
about Angela, I believe. Angela was saying that she
heard her say somewhere when she was speaking
on an interview that she was raised to believe
that she could be the best and she must be the best. And the best, better
than whites, of course. All of us, many of us
blacks knew that we had to be better than whi