Academic journal article Social Justice

Interview with Angela Davis

Academic journal article Social Justice

Interview with Angela Davis

Article excerpt

Tony Platt (TP): First of all I want to thank you and I appreciate the fact that you made the time to be here. I think you know this is a group of people from several different countries. We have people from graduate programs in law, sociology, social work, and justice studies. We have people coming together for the first time, with state college students and UC students taking the same class and having conversations. So we welcome you to this conversation.

And also on a personal note, I want to thank you for setting a model of being an academic, an intellectual, and also an activist, which is not an easy thing to do. You set that model for many, many people and we appreciate it.

To begin, I noticed that you were fired in 1970 from UCLA for what they called "inflammatory language."

Angela Davis (AD): That was the second time, I think.

TP: But then you came back.

AD: The first time I was fired for being a communist.

TP: Then they rehired you.

AD: Then I took the case up through the California Supreme Court and the case was overturned. The second time was "inflammatory language" and conduct unbecoming of a professor.

TP: All I can say is, congratulations. But here you are a respectable emerita professor from UC Santa Cruz invited back to the university.

AD: I don't know how respectable. I try not to be too respectable.

TP: But you've always been someone who has tried to bring together intellectual work and writing and research with your activism. That has always been an important part of your life.

AD: Yes.

TP: I'd like to start off by asking you something about the earlier part of your life. You grew up in the segregated South, in Birmingham, Alabama, as a young child and a young teen. But you came from an unusual family in that they were politically active. You grew up in that atmosphere. Would you say that obviously race was important to you in that political time and in your family? Was also class and economics an important part of your political training, so to speak, as a teenager?

AD: Absolutely. Because I grew up in what was at that time the most segregated city in the South--Birmingham, Alabama--I couldn't avoid thinking about race. Race was literally everywhere. My mother had become involved before I was born in an organization called the Southern Negro Youth Congress (SNYC). It was an organization created by Black communists who had come down from the Northeast, primarily from New York, to organize in the South. Have any of you seen that film called The Great Debaters (2007)? Do you remember the scene when Melvin Tolson, the character played by Denzel Washington, is organizing black and white tenant farmers? Apparently that was based on the work of the SNYC. I found this out because Dorothy Burnham, my mother's best friend (whose daughter is my closest friend), was one of the people who came down to the South. She saw that film and asked me if I knew the history behind it. I said, "Well, not really." She said, "That was our organization. That was the SNYC. That is the work that we did." So class was always involved as well.

TP: So was that unusual among the other young people and teenagers who you knew to take class and economic issues, as well as racial issues, as seriously as you did? We're talking about the 1950s in the South in Alabama.

AD: Probably, but you know, when I think about it I don't think about a discrete position on class and race. I think about them as being connected in a way that makes it impossible to talk about them separately. Of course, years later when we began to talk, write, and organize around the intersectionality of these various categories, I remembered that this is actually what was being done then. But of course, not having the same categories with which to work at that time I did not think about it in the same way.

TP: Did you think of yourself as doing political organizing when you were a teenager? …

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