Angela Davis: former member of the American Communist Party, former fugitive, former potential denizen of death row, and very current human rights activist. She’s far more than the photographic cliché that her iconic Afro has become. To millions, the author-intellectual Davis is a living hero from an era in which too many firebrands were extinguished all-too violently.
She was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1944, and took her parents’ social justice activism to her marrow. When she was a teenager she joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. A brilliant young student, she travelled at age 16 to Germany where she studied at the Frankfurt School under the guidance of German philosopher and critical theorist Theodor Adorno. While studying at the Sorbonne in 1963, Davis received word that two of her friends had been murdered. Euro-American terrorists had butchered her friends Rosamond Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, two of four African American girl victims at the Birmingham church bombing. Davis described them as being like sisters to her.
Upon her return to the US, Davis graduated with her B.A. magna cum laude. Upon earning her Master’s Degree, Davis began teaching in California’s public university system, where she earned the wrath of then-governor Ronald Reagan for her association with the revolutionary Black Panther Party and her membership in the Communist Party; Reagan’s government attempted to have her fired. But that case of political repression disguised as employment harassment would soon prove to be the least of her problems.
Davis was linked romantically to George Jackson, author of Soledad Brother, hard-time prisoner and “Field Marshall” for the BPP. In 1970, Jonathan, Jackson’s younger brother, attempted to free his brother from a Marin County courthouse; his bungled operation led to his own death, and the deaths of three other African Americans and a Euro-American judge. Accused of having supplied weapons to Jonathan Jackson, Davis became a fugitive, and at age 26 became the third woman in US history to be placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.
On the run for weeks, living in and out of safe houses until she was finally caught and imprisoned awaiting trial, Davis conducted a first-hand analysis of the interior of what she would later call the US “prison-industrial complex.” A black star on Richard Nixon’s and Ronald Reagan’s enemy list, Davis faced execution by toxic gas; having become an international cause celebre, Davis eventually won acquittal and her own freedom, but refused to walk away from the horrors she’d seen behind bars for the last (and nearly the final) sixteen months of her life.
As arguably the lead advocate for prisoner rights in the United States, Davis entered electoral politics as the US Communist Party’s vice presidential candidate in 1980 and 1984, and published books on a variety of topics, including Women, Race & Class; Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday;Abolition Democracy: Beyond Prisons, Torture, and Empire; and her classic autobiography. Today as Professor Emerita, she teaches in the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, inside the very state system Reagan swore would never employ her again. She continues to lecture widely, and is a mainstay on the modern enemies-lists of American arch-conservatives.
Angela Davis spoke with me by telephone from her home in San Francisco in March 2006, prior to her appearance at the University of Alberta Students’ Union Revolutionary Speakers’ Series in Edmonton. We spoke about many topics, including:
We began by discussing solutions to the problems facing us right now. Remember that Davis spoke with me during the second term of US president George W. Bush.
Brown Girl in the Ring is Nalo Hopkinson’s 1998 breakthrough novel that revitalised Africentric science fiction and fantasy. It’s the story of Ti-Jeanne, a medic and traditional healer in a near-future failed state Toronto. Ti-Jeanne can see through time, and she needs that power to survive the criminal despotism of Rudy, who runs the ruined city from his castle in the sky, the top of the CN Tower.
Ti-Jeanne comes to understand the source of her vision, as embodied in what some Caribbean people call Carnival Spirits, but are actually the gods of the Ilé Ifé religion of the Yoruba kingdom sprawling Nigeria, Togo, and Benin. Those deities dwell across the Western Hemisphere in the religions of Santeria in Cuba, Candomblé and Umbanda in Brazil, and Voudou in Haiti. That family of faiths encompasses 50 million adherents, making it larger than the combined Sikh, Jewish, and Bahá’í populations of the world.
Now Brown Girl in the Ring is coming to the screen in the form of Brown Girl in the Ring: The Prequel. That’s the indie film currently in pre-production as helmed by writer, director, and actor Sharon Lewis. Lewis may be best known to Canadians as host of CBC Newsworld’s Counter Spin, and as the mysterious DJ in Clement Virgo’s film Rude. She’s directed numerous episodes of television and the feature films Ritch, Chains, and Income Property.
But for Brown Girl in the Ring: The Prequel to get produced, it still needs money, and that’s why Lewis has turned to crowd-funding. This podcast goes live on Friday, July 17 2015. You have until tomorrow to donate through Indie Gogo. To get this movie made, visit http://browngirlinthering.ca.
In this episode, Sharon Lewis talks about her plans for the prequel she’s written and that she’ll direct, and also:
Sharon Lewis spoke with me by Skype from her home in Toronto on July 14, 2015. You’ll hear some noise throughout our conversation which is either someone cleaning or cats using a litter box.
Along the way we discuss the Tumblr account Every Single Word which is a web series featuring Hollywood movies edited down to only the lines spoken by coloured actors. The result is 2-hour films shortened to two minutes, or twenty seconds, or sometimes zero seconds.
Waymatea, better known as Sista J, is the band leader, lead singer, lead lyricist, and founding member of Souljah Fyah, one of Canada’s most popular and most celebrated reggae bands. Souljah Fyah has released three albums including their self-titled debut, Truth Will Reveal, and I Wish. The band has just returned from producing an album in Jamaica that is scheduled for release early 2016.
Unlike most of her contemporaries in popular music, Waymatea is an accomplished song writer, weaving her albums with everything from searing anti-genocide anthems and hometown cheer-sections to spiritual hymns and tender songs of heartbreak.
In this episode of MF GALAXY, Waymatea discusses:
Waymatea spoke with me on December 3, 2014 by Skype from her home in LA—that’s Leduc, Alberta.
Note that throughout our conversation, Waymatea’s young daughter makes several quiet cooing remarks and sound effects. Full disclosure: Waymatea and I are good friends; we met when we were both children, and in the early 1990s we worked together in EBONY, an African-Canadian youth group. We begin with Waymatea introducing herself.
Who’s slandering African-Americans and why? With friends like these….
Sociologist Algernon Austin is the author of Getting It Wrong: How Black Public Intellectuals Are Failing Black America.
If you watch or listen to the news, read magazines or popular books on current events, or perhaps simply check out movies, video games, or music videos, you’ve probably formed a number of conceptions of quality of life among Africans in the United States. Everyone knows, for instance, that teen pregnancy and out of wedlock births are increasing, violence and poverty are increasing, that post-secondary enrollment is down, high school completion and grades are down, and literacy, voting, and self-respect is down. Everybody knows all the above is true. And everybody is wrong.
Sadly, many of the people who believe the above myths are the Black public intellectuals of the United States. Some are conservatives in the service of right wing think tanks. Others define themselves as progressives or even revolutionaries. Still others are popular entertainers who’ve been paid spokesmen for White corporate America.
Thankfully, some academics are using the modest and sensible tools of research to counter reaction.
The 2007 book Getting it Wrong: How Black Public Intellectuals Are Failing Black America by sociologist Algernon Austin corrects myths about African Americans and crime, educational decline, so-called “cultural deficiency,” racial self-hatred, and the alleged scourge of “acting White.”
Algernon Austin is the director of the Thora Institute and edits Black Directions, the Institute’s reports on social issues affecting African Americans. Austin is also the former director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy, and was a senior fellow at the Dēmos think tank. He’s taught sociology at DePaul and Wesleyan universities.
This episode’s interview comes from the 16th sub-basement of the archives at the Grand Lodge of Imhotep. I originally interviewed Dr. Austin by telephone on September 16, 2007; he spoke with me by telephone from his home in Connecticut. Our conversation cites Bill Cosby. Back in 2007, long before the public disgracing of Bill Cosby over numerous rape allegations, Cosby was in the public eye for what has come to be known as the “Poundcake” lectures, which were either calls for personal responsibility by, or attacks on, poor African Americans.
Algernon Austin begins by discussing the causes of increasing success of African students in the United States.