Angela Davis: An Autobiography


“Some of us, white and black, know how great a price has already been paid to bring into existence a new consciousness, a new people, an unprecedented nation. If we know, and do nothing, we are worse than the murderers hired in our name. If we know, then we must fight for your life as though it were our own—which it is—and render impassible 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.”– Letter from James Baldwin to Angela Davis, in The Autobiography of Angela Davis


It took me a while to figure out that the Angela Davis with the big afro and the Angela Davis who writes academic texts are one and the same. Angela Davis  experienced more in the first 26 or so years of her life than most people do, and in this autobiography Davis talks about her upbringing in the racist South, her membership in the Communist Party and racism in the prison and court systems. I always think I’ve read enough books on these topics to be immune from shock but I’m always proven wrong.

Davis’ writing was very clear and poetic at times. In this book she is a lot more engaging and approachable than she was in her other books.

Davis has incredible insight into the prison system having been imprisoned herself. Her descriptions of her time spent in prison were very poignant. Regarding the prison system, Davis says:

“Jails are thoughtless places. Thoughtless in the sense that no thinking is done by their administrations; no problem-solving or rational evaluation of any situation slightly different from the norm. The void created by this absence of thought is filled by rules and the fear of establishing a precedent.”


“All its elements are based on an assumption that the prison system will continue to survive. Precisely for this reason, the system does not move to crush it.”

How true, especially when we hear of countries actually shutting down prisons in some European countries

Reading this book it’s not difficult to see the parallels in today’s world. 18 year old Gregory Clark’s murder by the LAPD in the 1960s was very reminiscent of 17 year old Trayvon Martin’s murder  just a couple of years ago.

This book is a call to arms, figuratively, a call to do something about the racism that is still embedded in our societies. Reading this made me angry, sad, frustrated and hopeful all at the same time. How can we turn a blind eye to all the racism that is still occurring in our world ? Even I, sitting here in the liberal city of Vancouver feel the indignation of what black people  are still experiencing in the States and elsewhere. When we have people saying that diversity= white genocide,  it’s obvious there’s work still to be done.

“Nothing in the world made me angrier than inaction, than silence. The refusal or inability to do something, say something when a thing needed doing or saying, was unbearable. The watchers, the headshakers, the back turners made my skin prickle.”



Additional thoughts:

I think reading this book at the same time I’m taking a Global Politics class was great timing. I still can’t get over the “Red Scare”, to be honest.  It’s just a difference in ideology but that difference was seen as incredibly threatening and caused so much violence. I think most conflicts come from a fear people have of things they perceive to be threatening. The media definitely plays a role in this. I make a promise to myself to do my own research before I react to something.


9 thoughts on “Angela Davis: An Autobiography

  1. Thanks so much for this, Rowena. I was in college when Angela Davis was imprisoned, and remember being moved and enraged by her plight. What happened to her – and so many other events in my youth – set me on the path to activism. I love it that you’ve read her autobiography and will be introducing it to the people who read your blog.

  2. Sad how ‘different’ still means, to most people, ‘dangerous’. Socially, from the beats of the fifties to the hippies of the sixties to the hip-hop kids today, ‘different’ was degenerate and threatening. Politically, allowable leeway for difference is even smaller: anyone a hair’s-breadth different is the enemy.

    Seems to me the real enemy is fear.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Gladys. I so agree with you! Speaking of hair, looking at Davis’ afro, it surprises me that people took that as a sign of danger and rebellion. It truly is all about the fear.

  3. It was wonderful to read your thoughts on this. I can’t wait to read it myself.
    “I always think I’ve read enough books on these topics to be immune from shock but I’m always proven wrong”
    I feel the same xxx

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s