By LINCOLN DAVIDSON
History is here and now, and our collective relationship with history defines the struggles we must make as a society, political activist and scholar Angela Davis said at Davidson College Tuesday night. “We live with the ghost of the past, we live with the ghost of slavery,” Professor Davis said in a speech titled “Political Activism and Protest from the 1960s to the Age of Obama.”
Professor Davis, who continues to fight for economic and social justice, was deeply involved in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. She gained national prominence in 1970 after becoming the third woman to be placed on the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted Fugitives list for her suspected involvement in the Marin County Courthouse incident. She later was later acquitted of all charges.
Prof. Davis went on to a college teaching career and is now Distinguished Professor Emerita at the University of California-Santa Cruz. She was at Davidson for a series of events, including the college’s 2013 Wearn Lecture, where she was greeted with a standing ovation.
In her talk, she made light of the Marin incident, pointing out that “the fact that I was on the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted list provoked horror in the 20th century, but it provokes applause in the 21st century.”
Reminding the audience that 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Prof. Davis said: “The freedom movement of the ’60s would not have been necessary had slavery been comprehensively abolished in the 19th century.”
Prof. Davis connected the civil rights movement of the 1960s to activist movements around the world, both before and after. “We need to think about the context in which the black activist movement evolved … it learned from activist movements before it. People around the world were inspired by it. Young Palestinians have organized freedom rides, boarding segregated buses in the occupied territory of Palestine.”
Going on to relate the plight of black Americans prior to the 1960s’ civil rights movement to the plight of immigrants in America today, Prof. Davis said, “Immigrants are part of black history. The black freedom struggle gets extended many ways in the 21st century.”
She also commented on the current national debate over illegal immigration, arguing that providing permanent residency is “welcoming people who perform the labor that black people used to perform.”
The lecture ended with a question and answer session, where Prof. Davis offered advice for the next generation of activists.
“We assume too many people are apathetic … this just serves as a way to justify the fact that we’re not doing the work we’re supposed to be doing. If you don’t see the complete results [of your activism], the next generation will. We have to act as if it were possible to create revolutionary change.”