‘They’re Finally Starting To Get It’: Angela Davis Reflects On Her 50-Year Fight For Racial Justice

Angela Davis has been fighting for racial justice for Black Americans since the dawn of the civil rights movement.

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Angela Davis has been fighting for racial justice for Black Americans since the dawn of the civil rights movement. She famously gave an interview in 1972 from her cell in a California state prison and during, viewers claim she branded herself as an intellectual individual who represented millions of other black american women who simply wanted to be seen as human beings.

Now, nearly fifty years later, that same interview clip has begun to resurface and spread on social media in wake of the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and thousands of other innocent black Americans at the hands of the police. Davis is now 76-years-old but continuing to fight for the same goal she’s had since she first became an activist. Recently, she was interviewed in the Guardian about the current fight for racial justice in America and the dozens of protests occurring every single day all across the country; there have been protests recorded in all 50 states. 

During the interview, she was asked if she believed that change was still possible after witnessing the same systemic issues occur for the past 50 years with no major change. She enthusiastically replied, “well, of course…after many moments of dramatic awareness and possibilities of change, the kinds of reforms instituted in the aftermath have prevented the radical potential from being realized,” however, she continued on that the large-scale protests that have occurred throughout the past five decades haven’t had the same momentum that she sees in the younger generation currently. What’s changed? According to Davis it lies in the fact that “white people are beginning to understand.”

“We’ve never witnessed sustained demonstrations of this size that are so diverse. As long as black people continue to be treated in this way, as long as the violence of racism remains what it is, then no one is safe,” Davis said.

As previously mentioned, Davis has been campaigning for racial justice for five decades. Her specific fields of reform that she was pursuing involved police abolition, defunding the police, and restructuring the bail/prison system in America; all things that protesters are fighting for today. At the time when Davis was initially protesting, however, those ideas were seen as completely unrealistic and totally radical, now, they’re becoming more of a prominent reality for Americans fighting for change. 

Davis also reflected on how society seemed to paint her as the image of social justice and reform in the 60’s/70’s, however, she views the younger generation to truly be that image of change, claiming that when she sees “these young people who are so intelligent, who have learned from the past and who have developed new ideas, [she finds herself] learning a great deal from people who are 50 years younger than” her. 

One of the biggest points Davis made in this recent interview was that although this passionate response is relatively new in terms of social justice, the issues have always been the same. Specifically, she wants all of the behind-the-scenes aspects of social justice to shine brighter than the protests typically do. Things like community organization, educational workshops, and food banks all makeup integral parts of this movement that have been occurring for decades, however, protests are the only aspects that are publicized. 

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“The struggles have been unfolding for a long time, what we are seeing now bears witness to the work that people have been doing that has not necessarily received media attention.”

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Davis has always advocated that the organization and work that individuals do to change the system beyond just protesting is what we must continue to emphasize in the media. She believes that systemic change comes from those working in that system, actively fighting to change it from the inside, and those on the front-lines screaming loudly in oppressors faces that we demand human rights. 

In the 1970’s Davis was arrested when a gun that she legally bought was used in an attempted courthouse escape that left three individuals dead. She was held in a California State prison, where she gave the famous 1972 interview, for 18 months until she was released thanks to the likes of celebrities such as Aretha Franklin, who brought Davis’ arrest into the mainstream. Davis could’ve, in theory, been executed for what she was being charged with at the time, and she recalls seeing dozens of her Black Panther counterparts get killed by the judicial system thanks to charges similar to hers; that had no real legal ground. 

Once she was released, Davis says a real change was sparked within her that made her want to amplify the female voices of the movement specifically, as they were not only fighting racism, but sexism as well. That’s another aspect that Davis paralleled to the movement today, specifically with the echoing of Breonna Taylor’s name during these protests. 

“I think it’s important to understand why this tendency towards masculine representations of struggle happen, and why we fail to recognize that women have forever been at the center of these struggles, whether as victims or organizers.”

Davis ended her interview by recalling how her mother had to explain segregation to her as a child. Davis’ mother was also a huge advocate for civil rights in the 30’s and 40’s, and she would always emphasize to Davis that while the fight was never over, “things would change.” She would always leave Davis with that hopeful ending that justice will be served and equality will be met, this is the message Davis continues to use to this day when discussing civil rights. 

“My mother always said to us: ‘This is not the way things are supposed to be, this is not the way the world is supposed to be.’”