GEORGE Jackson was in 1960, an 18-year-old American youth accused of robbing a gas station in Los Angeles and stealing $70. A wrong legal advice saw him pleading guilty ostensibly for a light sentence. But he was given a one year to life sentence. Which meant he would be eligible for parole in one year?
But he acquired political education in prison advocating for a change in the American society. He became identified as a Black Militant. It meant he was seen by the American establishment as a dangerous activist who should not be released into society. So, young Jackson ended up spending ten years in Soledad Prison, seven and a half of them in solitary confinement. The prison was the title of his famous letters from prison the ‘Soledad Brother.’
In 1969, Jackson and two other black inmates – Fleeta Drumgo and John Cluchette, were framed for the death of a White guard. The frame-up sparked outrage in America. On August 7, 1970, Jackson’s younger brother, Jonathan, an high school kid aged 17, stormed a courthouse handing over guns to three Black defendants and took five hostages. He demanded that his brother and the two other defendants should be freed. In the shootout that followed, Jonathan was killed.
An inconsolable Jackson, dedicated his 1970 book, the ‘Soledad Brother’ to Jonathan. He wrote: “To the Man-Child, tall, evil, graceful, bright-eyed, black man-child – Jonathan Peter Jackson – who died on August 7, 1970, courage in one hand, assault rifle in the other; my brother, comrade, friend – the true revolutionary, the black communist guerrilla in the highest state of development, he died on the trigger, scourge of the unrighteous, soldier of the people; to this terrible man-child and his wonderful mother Georgia Bea, to Angela Y. Davis, my tender experience, I dedicate this collection of letters; to the destruction of their enemies I dedicate my life.”
Less than one year later, George Jackson was dead, shot by a guard in San Quentin Prison while allegedly trying to escape; a fairy tale the rest of the critical world was unwilling to accept. The Angela Yvonne Davis, Jackson mentioned in his dedication, was a 25-year-old acting assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy, University of California, Los Angeles, UCLA. She was a radical feminist, member of the Communist Party USA, and associate of the Black Panther Party. The Black Panther was a radical party founded on October 15, 1966 by African Americans; Bobby Seale and Huey Newton to defend Blacks from police brutality; if need be, by force of arms.
The University of California based on pressures by then California governor, Ronald Reagan, in 1969 sacked her from the university due to her political leanings. But the courts overturned the sack. It was discovered that the guns used by Jonathan Jackson to take over the courtroom, belonged to Davies, and she was declared wanted. The Federal Bureau of Investigations, FBI, on August 18, listed her on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List.
She was arrested on October 13, 1970, and, then President Richard M. Nixon described the arrest as the “capture of the dangerous terrorist Angela Davis”. When she appeared in court, Davies said: “I now declare publicly before the court, before the people of this country that I am innocent of all charges which have been levelled against me”. There were massive campaigns across the world to free her. John Lennon released a song “Angela”. After 16 months in jail, some of it in solitary confinement, she was released on bail.
Her argument that her ownership of the guns does not prove conspiracy was upheld by an all-White jury which on June 4, 1972, returned a not-guilty verdict. The Rolling Stones honoured her with their 1970 song “Sweet Black Angel”. Davies, with her Afro hair and Black Power Salute became the famous face of the Black Woman and an icon of resistance. She was feted across the globe, including Cuba, where she met Fidel Castro, and the Soviet Union where she was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize.
Davies also became a famous scholar with many books to her credit. A thinker and international activist, she advised all must be involved in the struggle for freedom and human rights, arguing that: “If they come for me in the morning, they will come for you in the night”. She argued that: “If you are free in a political sense but have no food, what’s that? The freedom to starve?”
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She said of the American education system: “When children attend schools that place a greater value on discipline and security than on knowledge and intellectual development, they are attending prep schools for prison”. She stated her guiding philosophy in straight terms: “I’m no longer accepting the things I cannot change…I’m changing the things I cannot accept”. On the possibility of being killed, she said: “We know the road to freedom has always been stalked by death”.
In September 2017, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, BCRI, awarded her the Fred Shuttlesworth Prize for her courage and global activism for human rights. The award in honour of the famous American Civil Rights icon was scheduled to be conferred on February 16, 2019 but a campaign by power centres in America has forced the BCRI to withdraw the award on the basis that amongst other things, she supports the right of Palestinians to freedom and a homeland. The BCRI Board said it took the action when “upon closer examination of Ms. Davis’ statements and public record, we concluded that she unfortunately does not meet all of the criteria on which the award is based”.
The campaign started on December 23, when Larry Brooks, Editor of Southern Jewish Life, complained that Davis “…has also been an outspoken voice in the boycott-Israel movement, and advocates extensively on college campuses for the isolation of the Jewish state, saying Israel engages in ethnic cleansing and is connected to police violence against African-Americans in the United States”.
Unperturbed, Davies issued a statement: “The revocation of the award (was) not primarily an attack against me but rather against the very spirit of the indivisibility of justice”. She reiterated: “I support Palestinian political prisoners just as I support current political prisoners in the Basque Country, in Catalunya, in India, and in other parts of the world… I have indeed expressed opposition to policies and practices of the state of Israel, as I express similar opposition to U.S. support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine and to other discriminatory U.S. policies”.
The new conspiracy against Angela Davies would rather than diminish her status, further enrich it; the truth she stands for is like the sun, no matter the efforts made, it can never be shielded from humanity.