The Free Angela and All Political Prisoners documentary released in 2012, recounted the extraordinary events that simultaneously made Angela Davis infamous and heroic. I hadn’t watched it until last week; it reminded me of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Focussing on the events surrounding the Soledad Brothers case that led to Davis becoming a murder suspect and fugitive on the FBI’s most wanted list, the documentary highlight why unity in activism is important.
The guns used during the kidnapping plot were registered in Angela Davis’ name and that’s why she became a prime suspect in the case. After being on the run for some time, Angela got rid of her signature afro to disguise herself but was eventually caught by the FBI. Perceived so dangerous by the US government, due to this case and her associations with Black Panther Party and the Communist Party USA, she was placed in solitary confinement after arrest. Davis was released on bail when a white farmer put his farm up as collateral, as she awaited what was arguably one of the most sensational trials in the 1970s.
Like most people, I was aware of the racial tensions in America in the 1970s and not surprised that race played a huge role during the Angela Davis murder trial. There was no doubt that Davis had charismatic lawyers, but that is not always enough, especially when a white judge was among the victims killed and the state declares they want to give you three death sentences (even though a mortal human being can only be killed once!). One of the pivotal moments in the trail, was when a ‘key eyewitness’ for the prosecution was asked to point out Angela Davis in court, and he confidently pointed at her friend instead – who also had an afro. This of course brought his ‘eye witness’ statement into doubt.
What struck me most during the documentary was the campaigning by Davis’ family especially her sister Fania, which stretched across US borders. I was not expecting the Davis family to be heavily supported by groups across Eastern Europe. Some countries in Eastern Europe are not very tolerant of black people now, let alone in the 1970s. The main reason why thousands of white people took to the streets (as well as black people in America and beyond) in various countries across Europe, demanding the release of a black woman with an afro, during that time is because they were united with her on one main belief – communism.
A political ideology which seemed to transcend race galvanised one of the most famous activist movements in history. I’m not saying that protests centred around racial inequality are futile, they are extremely important – like The Black Lives Matter movement. The case of Angela Davis showed that (along with the talent of her legal team), sometimes the most successful protests are those that have a simple unifying single belief. Protests based on racial equality are similar but also depend on others remembering that regardless of race, we are all human, hence should all be treated the same.
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Photo credit: Block Party Cinema