Angela Yvonne Davis (born January 26, 1944) is an American political activist, philosopher, academic, and author. She is a professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Ideologically a Marxist, Davis was a member of the Communist Party USA until 1991, after which she joined the breakaway Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. She is the author of over ten books on class, feminism, and the U.S. prison system.
Born to an African American family in Birmingham, Alabama, Davis studied French at Brandeis University and philosophy at the University of Frankfurt in West Germany. Studying under the philosopher Herbert Marcuse, a prominent figure in the Frankfurt School of Marxism, Davis became increasingly interested in far-left politics. Returning to the U.S., she studied at the University of California, San Diego before moving to East Germany, where she gained a doctorate at the Humboldt University of Berlin. Back in the U.S., she joined the Communist Party and involved herself in a range of leftist causes, including the second-wave feminist movement, the Black Panther Party, and the movement in opposition to the Vietnam War. In 1969 she was hired as an acting assistant professor of philosophy at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). UCLA’s governing Board of Regents soon fired her due to her Communist Party membership; after a court ruled this illegal, the university fired her again, this time for her use of inflammatory language.
In 1970, Davis purchased firearms for people who used them in an armed takeover of a courtroom in Marin County, California, in which four people were killed. She was prosecuted for three capital felonies, including conspiracy to murder. After over a year in jail, she was acquitted of the charges in 1972. She continued both her academic work and her domestic activism. In the 1980s she was professor of ethnic studies at San Francisco State University. Much of her work focused on the abolition of prisons and in 1997 she co-founded Critical Resistance, an organization working to abolish the prison–industrial complex. During the 1970s she visited Marxist-Leninist-governed countries and during the 1980s was twice the Communist Party’s candidate for Vice President. In 1991, amid the dissolution of the Soviet Union, she left the party and joined the breakaway Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. Also in 1991, she joined the feminist studies department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she became department director before retiring in 2008. Since then she has continued to write and remained active in movements such as Occupy and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.
Davis is a controversial figure. Praised by many Marxists and others on the far left, she has received various awards, including the Lenin Peace Prize. Criticism has focused on her support for political violence and her refusal to advocate for prisoners in Marxist-Leninist countries.