By Chauncey k. Robinson
Revolutionary activist, philosopher and professor Dr. Angela Davis is being inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame this year. The organization is the nation’s oldest membership group dedicated to recognizing and celebrating the achievements of women in the United States. Davis has a long history in the civil rights movement as an advocate for the oppressed, along with standing firm on issues such as racism, systemic oppression, and justice for Palestine.
To date, 276 women have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. This year, Davis will be among ten new members: Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, actress Jane Fonda, attorney Gloria Allred, Native American lawyer Sarah Deer, retired Air Force fighter pilot Nicole Malachowski, the late suffragist and cartoonist Rose O’Neill, New York Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, who died last year, composer Laurie Spiegel, and AIDS researcher Flossie Wong-Staal.
Davis was born in Birmingham, Ala., in 1944, when Jim Crow segregation and racial oppression pervaded society. This atmosphere put her on a path of resistance to the status quo. From organizing interracial study groups as a teenager despite segregation to joining the revolutionary Black Panther Party, to her membership and leadership in the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), Davis’ history in the movement for change is a long one.
In 1970, Davis was charged with murder in a frame-up after the aborted attempt by Jonathan Jackson to free his brother, George Jackson, and the Soledad Brothers. A movement sprang up for her freedom, catapulting Davis to the international spotlight and allowing her a platform to speak to the oppression that continues to plague our society. Since that time, Davis has remained diligent in her activism.
Earlier this year, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Alabama came under fire after reversing its decision to honour Davis. In a vague and troubling statement, the institute cast doubt on Davis’ work when it comes to advocating for the defence of human rights. The decision came as a result of redbaiting, along with false accusations of anti-Semitism against Davis due to her support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement targeting Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
Despite this, Davis defended her stance on the BDS movement by connecting it to her lifelong fight for justice and civil rights. In her statement she noted, “I have devoted much of my own activism to international solidarity and, specifically, to linking struggles in other parts of the world to U.S. grassroots campaigns against police violence, the prison industrial complex, and racism more broadly.” Davis makes it plain, and rightly so, that her fight for human rights goes beyond borders, extending across the globe to all oppressed peoples.
Earlier this year, at the 45th anniversary celebration of the founding of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, Davis addressed the current political climate and the Trump administration and called for the need of solidarity across communities.
“People like Trump successfully end up persuading some white people who are having difficult economic circumstances that their impoverishment is a direct result of immigrants… We’ve come a long way, but we haven’t come far at all.” Emphasizing the importance of global solidarity, she explained, “Islamophobia has to be understood as linking to and reigniting anti-Black, anti-Latino, anti-Asian, and so on racism. And racist violence when inflicted with misogyny is especially fatal.”
In many ways, Davis’ life of activism was a forerunner of the trend now emerging that’s seeing growing numbers of women of color leaders emerge.
In a conversation with People’s World earlier this year, Davis spoke on this growing movement of women of colour taking centre stage in politics. She said:
“Black women have always grasped the intersectional character of us being in the world. Particularly now it’s important to make the connection between labour organizing, combating sexual violence, and recognizing the repressive apparatus of the prisons, and the police. The advice I would give would be to stay connected to that tradition [of intersectionality], and not try to simplify what appears to be very complex. To recognize it, you have to take into consideration race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and so on.”
And although there is often talk of Davis’ connection to the past and to history, the revolutionary continues to look to the future for a better tomorrow.
“We have to say a form of socialism [is the road forward]. We’ve seen the relative success of socialism in places like Cuba. There are examples we can point to, but it’s not about replicating what someone else has done, but fulfilling the potential which exists here,” Davis explained.
The recognition of Davis’ legacy is a well-deserved one. The fight for equality, freedom, and a better road forward for the world is the living history that she’s connected to.
The induction ceremony will take place in early September outside Seneca Falls, N.Y., the upstate city which hosted the first Women’s Rights Convention in July 1848 and is considered the birthplace of women’s rights. (IPA Service)