A Free Angela Davis poster. Public domain.
For years, the lynching mob, the armed police, and incarceration in prisons has been the life of Black America. The story of Angela Davis is the story of a vital new generation of Black people in the United States, a new awakened generation of people who are at the front, in the vanguard of the struggle for freedom and equality, against the growing danger of racism and fascism.
Angela Davis has become the symbol, the focus, of a movement in her support and defence that is growing amidst the Black and White people of the world. Yet Angela Davis herself insists that her case should not be viewed in isolation, must not be taken apart from the other trials that have taken, and are taking place. The arrest of Angela Davis is an integral part of a concerted effort to attack judicially and physically the Black organisations in the USA. Many Black militants and Black Panthers have been killed by the police and prison guards, not to mention the attacks on other revolutionary groups, radical white organisations and individuals, at the instigation of the Nixon regime.
Numerous have been the cases of political, national and racial repression in the United States – Sacco and Vanzetti; the Scotsboro Boys; Joe Hill; the Rosenbergs; Bobby Seale; Paul Robeson; Huey Newton; Eldridge Cleaver; to mention just a few – there are thousands more! The most recent example of methods that are resorted to was the deliberate assassination of George Jackson.
What is the present situation in the United States? It is one where repression of a political nature has reached enormous proportions – and that this is a planned, vicious and calculated attack based upon class, national and racial oppression. The most prominent victims of the system being the black and brown populations. At the beginning of colonisation of America the aboriginal ‘Red Indian’ population was estimated to be in the region of some 40,000,000, and during the history of America they have been systematically reduced to a present estimated 5,000,000.
The Scotsboro Boys. Public domain.
Racial suppression is nothing new to American ‘democracy’. Some of the very men who helped formulate the Declaration and the Constitution were back on their slave labour plantations before the ink was hardly dry. Many of the provisions have never been implemented. An important fact to be recognised is that the repression reflects serious defects within the social system of America. The whole apparatus of coercion, manipulation, harassment and provocation is indicative of a profound social crisis, of a disintegration of the bourgeois democratic constitution of the USA. A situation where power is exercised by means of coercion rather than by a legitimately respected leadership.
Arising out of this situation is an aspect of real importance – that radical, democratic, revolutionary elements of the Black and White working class are developing a mass movement, a mass resistance to the escalation of repressive measures and laws. Hence in such a situation the demand to free all political prisoners assumes great tactical validity.
Coupled with the demands of the necessity to expose the fascist tendencies of the instruments of repression, and to expose the exploitation nature of the capitalist system itself, great efforts are being made to resist the attacks on the democratic rights by the authorities – thus justifying the demands for penal reform and the desire for eventual social change, for socialism.
The coercive apparatus of America, with its now obvious fascist tendencies and methods persistently attacks the Black, Brown, Mexican and Puerto Rican minorities – as well as increasingly moving against the politically conscious sections of the working class and students as a whole. Not only the Black Panthers, but now the growing movement for peace in Viet Nam and the draft resistors are being more and more the target of police and National Guard provocation.
Photo in the public domain.
There is a developing political understanding amongst the working class of the USA, of all ethnic groups, for an uncompromising resistance to all the forms of racism and fascism that are present in the country. The stock in trade of reaction in America is the ideology of race hysteria, of anti-communism, and erosion of constitutional provisions. A perversion of the judicial machinery to function as political tribunals – the railroading of innocent victims of racist oppression into the prisons.
Bobby Seale poster. Public domain.
Repressive measures in the USA have escalated under the Nixon administration – to a situation where workers of all groups, revolutionaries and even Democrats are victims of police persecutions, arrests, penal victimisation, legalised murders, and prosecutions. The fascist nature of the aggressive, genocidal war in Viet Nam is self-evident. It being no mere coincidence that Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated soon after his declaration that the Viet Nam War and the repression at home were inseparably connected, and that the Vietnamese people were fighting for liberation as was the Black American and that they had a common cause, a common enemy.
To return to Angela Davis – what is the case? What is the reason why that she is in prison awaiting trial? Are we to accept that the frame-up charges of murder, kidnapping and inter-state flight? Or is there another reason? A political motivation behind her arrest and trial, that has been engineered by Reagan, Nixon, and Hoover?
The arrest of Angela Davis was on a doubtful legal pretext, a fabrication, in order to attempt to silence a Black woman, who is also a communist and radical intellectual. Her arrest is directly traceable to her intense and consistent revolutionary activity for prison reforms, equalities and rights and freedoms. Well known were here efforts in the campaign for the release of the Soledad Brothers. Therefore the reactionary forces vowed and schemed to have her silenced.
Angela Davis recognises this only too well as she has said previously – “I am a Black woman communist. The corrupt government of this country could not accept such a combination. This is why they use the events of San Rafael to launch an effort to murder me.”
“If they come for me in the morning, they will come for you in the night.” (Angela Davis).
Source: book cover. Public domain.
The real crime that has been committed by Angela Davis and the other political prisoners is that they were actively participating with their brothers and sisters in the struggle against political and racial oppression in their land. Angela Davis has put her life on the line for all the oppressed in America, and that is why the racism must be defeated and Angela Davis and all other Black people, progressive Whites and the people of the world know she is perfectly innocent – and that there is the greatest confidence that what she wrote to her parents can become a reality – “Have no fear Mother and Father, the people of the Wold will set me free.”
The charges against Angela arose out of an incident on August 7th, 1970, at the San Rafael courthouse in Marin County, California. Jonathan Jackson, younger brother of George Jackson, invaded the courtroom armed with guns to demand the release of George and the other Soledad Brothers. The actual hearing concerned a charge against a Black defendant James McLain – accused of murdering a prison guard.
The ensuing events are well known, where the San Quentin guards opened fire, killing the hostages plus Jackson, Christmas and McLain. Angela Davis was nowhere the scene of the insurgency, but on a spurious pretext that she allegedly owned the guns used by Jackson (and this is not proven) a warrant for her arrest was issued.
Yet what serious social pressures and frustrations are there that should force a 17 year-old to take such precipitate action? As a result Angela Davis immediately went into hiding. As she herself said – “I was convinced that there was little likelihood that I would get justice in California…To turn myself in would have been tantamount to delivering myself into the hands of my self-appointed executioners.”
When eventually arrested in New York after one of the most intensive FBI investigations ever, Angela Davis offered no resistance and was unarmed – despite the pre-judgement of the whole case by Nixon on television who stated that he was glad that “…a dangerous terrorist…” had been arrested.
So today Angela Davis awaits trial for a crime she did not commit. She resides in a jail in Reagan’s California. The state where she was an assistant professor of philosophy at UCLA. The university at which the Head of the Board of Regents is Governor Ronald Reagan. The UCLA dismissed Angela from her post at the instigation of Reagan because she was a Black communist. This in spite of her enormous popularity and support in the university and on the campus.
Today in America, and throughout the world, there exists a campaign for the freedom of Angela Davis and all political prisoners. This resistance takes many forms and different levels. Some of which is spontaneous and most of which is organised – based upon the forms of mass struggle and activity.
In the USA there is the utilisation of as much of the existing democratic and constitutional provisions as possible. The aim is to achieve the widest possible support in the community. The fundamental aspect, the critical issue, is not just the freeing of an individual, the movement stresses that all political prisoners must be free. The movement points out its relationships with all liberation, democratic and revolutionary movements.
In the resistance to political, national and racial oppression the movement raises the objective of more than Angela’s freedom – the development towards creating amongst the masses the understanding of the political issues involved and that the system is the real enemy not the Black man. The case of Angela’s defence raises political implications that rise above the release of a central figure.
As the Reverend Ralph Abernathy has written – “A racist, oppressive criminal society is attempting to kill a militant, Black woman activist because of her political beliefs, and her commitment to those beliefs, and you and I will be just as guilty as the racist society if we permit it happen. Let we warn all of you that today it is Angela, but if we sit silent and keep our peace, tomorrow it will be you and it will be me.”
Ralph Abernathy poster. Public domain.
This extremely relevant point of responsibility was further echoed by James Baldwin who in an open letter to Angela wrote – “If we know, then we must fight for your life as though it were our own – which it is – and render impassable with our bodies the corridor to the gas chamber. For if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.”
Developing from this resistance is the pressing political necessity for the organisation and consolidation of a United Front. A front that unites all sections of the revolutionary, radical, Black and working class movements. The prior requisite is that this front should be led by the liberation and working class movements. This organisation would then be capable of giving a resounding ideological, theoretical and practical rebuff to the increasing racist and fascist, genocidal tendencies of the reactionary ruling class of the United States.
As Ralph Abernathy so correctly stated – “It is not only Angela Davis’s life that is at stake. We must also see that this trial is an attempt to intimidate, to suppress all people who would stand up and speak their minds and who will join in the struggle for a decent and just society.” It is of tremendous importance to realise that racist ideas can be attendant upon the development of more extreme forms of political oppression if they are not RESISTED and DEFEATED. To acquiesce to racist acts and ideas is to be as guilty as the racist. To sit back and be an armchair philosopher, to hide behind a desk or in a library is one sure way of aiding and abetting racialism.
A pamphlet entitled ‘Free Angela Davis and all Political Prisoners’, written as part of the Free Angela Davis Campaign, Oxford (New College, 1972). Illustrations added when this was included on my blog site, August, 2014. Inspired to put on my blog by the militarised police oppression of the black and white protestors in Ferguson, USA.