COLUMBIA — A piece of textbook history stepped onto stage at Jesse Auditorium on Thursday night.
Angela Davis — activist, author, educator and philosopher — spoke about civil and human rights in a democracy.
“All of these are too often taken for granted,” she said of civil rights. Obama's election did not do away with the need for civil rights, she said, a term that is often limited to represent oppression of only black Americans.
“Civil Rights are extremely important,” Davis said. “Having grown up in one of the most segregated cities in the country in the '50s, I know what it’s like to achieve voting rights.”
Her Afro carried a bit more curl than the history books show, and this time the black was worn on a modernly designed blouse, decorated with sequins, instead of a leather jacket. But although she looked a little different from iconic photos of her in the '70s, Davis appeared just as passionate about the pursuit of equal rights for all.
Davis is most well known for her stance as an activist with the Black Panther Party and for being on the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted Fugitives" list for criminals. In 1970, a warrant was issued for her arrest after Jonathan Jackson killed a judge and wounded three in an attempt to have several prisoners released, including his brother George Jackson. Jonathan Jackson committed the crime with a weapon registered in Davis' name.
Davis was acquitted on all accounts in 1972.
MSA/GPC, the Black Programming Committee, the Legion of Black Collegians and Four Front brought Davis to MU.
Shanetha Washington, senior president of the Black Programming Committee, said she thinks Davis was a good choice to come to MU because she is passionate about many topics, including race, class, gender and prison reform.
“Basically, we chose her because we wanted to find somebody who would be relevant with different groups of students,” Washington said.
Davis used the 45 minutes — until her cell phone rang to remind her to wrap it up — to discuss unemployment, immigration and education.
She said that not too long ago, it was easy to obtain a doctoral degree without paying tuition, and that education should be about people contributing their knowledge to society, not whether they can afford it, and that it should not be privatized.
“The next you know, air will be private,” she said.
Michelle Gadbois, president of the Columbia School Board, asked Davis about the achievement gap in schools.
Gadbois, who has seen Davis lecture three times, said she approved of Davis' advice that said we need to start over. As a history teacher, she said she admires Davis because she understands that addressing equality means discussing race, gender and other discrepancies in society.
She also discussed the prison system and the changing statistics from 2007 that said one of every 100 people in the U.S. was under the control of a correctional facility; now the number is one in 31.
She noted that statistics focused on men and whites, and that women of color are completely overlooked in the statistics.
Brian Hamilton of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, one of the groups that helped bring Davis to MU, said her mention of statistics surprised him.
He agreed with Davis that, in addition to the choice of prisons or the death penalty for offenders, punishment should also include healing for victims and true rehabilitation to avoid the repetition of offenses.
“It’s really about breaking these cycles,” he said.
Davis, who is known for her communist views, also spoke about capitalism in terms of rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Marriage has been about the distribution and accumulation of property, she said. It also was denied to slave and interracial couples, at one point.
Davis exceeded her 45 minutes, explaining that the goals of all struggles have been about resistance.
“But they’re also about expanding the meaning of freedom,” she said.
“Freedom is not what we imagined 50 years ago.”