Angela Davis, college professor and former Black Panther, spoke Thursday in the Tom W. Davis Gym in the RPAC about a “struggle for freedom” at the featured event for United Black World Month.
She said the struggle has ranged from the first slave ships to reach American shores to the abolition of the U.S. prison system in the age of Obama.
Davis spoke for a little over an hour, touching on everything from the philosophy of Marx and Hegel to the recent earthquake in Haiti.
She said she was disturbed not only by the earthquake’s devastation but also by the “journalistic and tele-visual representations of Haiti.” The news made Haiti’s striking poverty seem somehow as natural as the earthquake, she said, rather than focusing on historical factors that made the world’s first black republic so destitute.
The legacy of the Civil Rights Movement overarched much of her speech.
It wasn’t called the Civil Rights Movement back then, she said.
“It was called ‘The Movement,; which was shorthand for ‘The Freedom Movement.'”
She described The Movement as achieving equality before the law, but noted that there are limitations.
“Freedom is far larger, vaster, more capacious than civil rights,” she said.
The crowd was mostly subdued. At one point, Davis encouraged those in attendance to applaud as she listed what she considered present-day freedom movements, including those of undocumented immigrants, the disabled, GLBT people, and Palestinians.
Brittany Dunn, a third-year in linguistics, said she thought people were “taking it all in and aborb[ing] the knowledge.”
Dunn attended with members of the student group Unplugging Society: Women of Color Think Tank, and, along with other members, took notes throughout the speech.
Christa Porter, intercultural specialist for the Multicultural Center, said the MCC worked with students, faculty and the Council of Black Leaders in deciding to invite Davis as the featured speaker.
She said bringing Davis was a collaborative effort. Donations from 12 sponsors and money from the Multicultural Center’s budget paid for her visit.
Porter also said Davis’ advocacy and activism for a number of social causes made her a good choice.
“We believe in the importance of inclusivity while also celebrating the African American experience,” she said. Davis has spoken out on feminist issues, social and economic justice, and now advocates for the abolition of what she calls “the prison industrial complex.”
“We want all of our speakers to be inclusive of more than one identity,” Porter said.
Rashida Davison, a second-year in film and sociology, said her favorite part of the speech was when Davis discussed GLBT rights in the same vein as civil rights.
“I liked that she brought up that civil rights shouldn’t be exclusive to a particular group,” she said.
“I was always under the impression that justice was indivisible,’ Davis said in her speech. “I was always under the impression that we don’t make decisions about who gets civil rights.”
Davis also spoke of the abolition of the U.S. prison system — which she is intimately familiar with. At the time a civil rights activist and college lecturer, she spent 18 months in prison after a California judge was killed with a shotgun registered in her name in 1970.
“Do you all want to hear this?” Davis asked before launching into the story that made her a household name in the 1970s.
Before being captured, she eluded police for two months, becoming the third woman ever placed on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List.
An all-white jury acquitted Davis of all charges in 1972. During the 13 week trial, images of a grim-faced Davis, sporting her trademark afro hair style, graced newspapers and the nightly newscasts. “Free Angela” shirts, buttons and placards became almost as ubiquitous as peace signs.
From the beginning, controversy seemed to follow not far behind. While a philosophy lecturer at UCLA, she drew the ire of then Governor Ronald Reagan because at the time she was an admitted Communist.
Porter said she thought it was important for a university the size of OSU to “provide a platform both to critique [Davis’] views and to challenge our own thinking in an educational space.”
We were absolutely convinced that we were going to win the revolution,” Davis said of her activism with the Black Panthers. “As if that was a real possibility.”
“We never really win the victories we think we’re going to win,” she added.
But continuing the struggle, she suggested, makes “our sense of freedom so much larger.”
“We were saying ‘free the black man,'” Davis said, raising her fist. “Then we thought, maybe they should be saying ‘free the black woman.'”