Growing up with parents who were part of the Civil Rights Movement and SNCC, I was bound to be immersed in its history and historical figures. One of my favorites is Angela Davis.
I’ve never met Angela Davis, but I’ve always felt like I knew her because I’ve been hearing about her all of my life. Literally, I probably know more about her time when she was “underground” and running from the FBI than many of the text books because my mom, some aunts, and friends of the family were some of the “underground” people. While in high school, I studied the about the Black Panther Party in detail and protested against one of my history teachers who refused to allow me to do a project on them because “They weren’t an important part of American history.” Not only did I prove him wrong, but I purposely made sure to include information about “Non-American” history in my history projects, and my dorm walls were plastered with these historical figures alongside my favorite music artists.
Upon going to Spelman College, I purchased a t-shirt that had Ms. Davis face on it with her glorious afro, and I wore it weekly (literally, I did). Once, while wearing the t-shirt, I stepped on an elevator, and a much older man asked me, “I bet you don’t know who the woman is that’s on your t-shirt.” I looked him square in the eyes and proceeded to give a “mini” biography of Ms. Davis. Upon completion, he stated, “I’m glad to see a young person who knows the history and isn’t just wearing it for style.” Style? No, my shirt wasn’t for style. My shirt served as a constant reminder of why I did certain things such as question information, seek knowledge, arm myself with intelligence, and never EVER allow anyone to make me feel inferior. It was the combination of that t-shirt and reading the autobiography of Malcolm X that made me want to be myself, love myself, and look like myself. That lead me to go natural, and I haven’t looked back since. To this day, I still have that t-shirt, and I love when people question me about the woman with the afro on it.
Ms. Davis was recently at Spelman College to give a speech, as part of the Ida B. Wells Distinguished Lecture Series. I was hurt that I couldn’t attend, but of course Mom went to see her. I heard the location was packed, with a line wrapped around the building. I can believe it; for, that’s what normally happens when notable speakers come to Spelman. I can only image what she said, looked like, and what type of energy that radiated from her presence.
I bet it was amazing.
“What this country needs is more unemployed politicians.”
“I think that has to do with my awareness that in a sense we all have a certain measure of responsibility to those who have made it possible for us to take advantage of the opportunities.”
“What can we learn from women like Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday that we may not be able to learn from Ida B. Wells, Anna Julia Cooper, and Mary Church Terrell? If we were beginning to appreciate the blasphemies of fictionalized blues women – especially their outrageous politics of sexuality – and the knowledge that might be gleaned from their lives about the possibilities of transforming gender relations within black communities, perhaps we also could benefit from a look at the artistic contributions of the original blues women.”
-Angela Y. Davis