Angela Davis Speaks About Justice and Equality



On February 24, 2009, the Colgate community heard a lecture titled “Violence Against Women and the Ongoing Challenge to Racism and Frameworks for Radical Feminism in the 21st Century” by renowned African American educator, activist and writer Angela Davis at Memorial Chapel.

Sisters of the Round Table (SORT) sponsored the lecture in honor of Africana Women’s Week and to further SORT’s mission to provide outlets that foster bonding and social support for women of color and their advocates.

“Growing up in the sixties, Angela Davis was the woman,” Vice President and Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson said in her opening address.

In her introduction of the keynote speaker, senior Gabriella Jones-Casey, Chairwoman of SORT, added that Davis “embodies what it means to be a SORT sister.”

Angela Davis is currently a graduate studies Professor of History of Consciousness at the University of California and Presidential Chair at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of eight books and is best known for her commitment to civil rights, prison reform and political accountability. A self-described “radical,” Davis has claimed membership in both the Black Panthers and Communist parties. She was also involved with Soledad prison inmates who were accused of killing a prison guard.

The program also included a quotation by Davis herself: “Radical simply means ‘grasping things at the root.'”

Members of the audience quietly whispered to one another, expressing their eagerness to hear the words of this radical figure. Although some students prior to the lecture certainly seemed to expect to hear fanatical beliefs, it was clear from the beginning of her lecture that Davis simply hoped to express beliefs in conformity with her own definition of “radical.” It was clear that she wanted to grasp the inequalities facing American society by the root by inspiring others, particularly young, ambitious college students, to do so as well.

In keeping with the theme of Black History Month, Davis described the potential influence of a month of such designation, expressing her hope that one day, every month can be like Black History Month. Before the month of February was dedicated to Black History, she explained, there was “Negro History Week.”

“This was a joyous period because it was the only time we could focus on the accomplishments of our close relatives,” Davis said in reference to her celebration of this week growing up in Birmingham, Alabama.

Davis declared that Black History Month should extend beyond simply being a “joyous period” and that its potential to eventually become “a motor for justice for all communities.”

Davis believes that her feminist beliefs can play a significant role in reaching this goal; a major point of the lecture was that in order to achieve racial equality, we must also engage with issues of sexuality, class and gender.

Davis emphasized the importance of bettering the lives of the masses of people in order to truly bring about progress, as opposed to simply focusing on the individual. However, she explained that history has shown that as soon as one person accomplishes something extraordinary, such as the election of the first African American President or the tenuring of first African American woman at a university, everyone assumes that people within the category will also be free, which is not always the case.

Senior Mariza Rocha found this to be an especially poignant element of Davis’s speech.

“I was glad that Angela Davis spoke in reference to the election of Barack Obama as a non-monumental moment in racial dynamics in America,” Rocha said. “Although it may seem like some sort of milestone, it has not actually altered attitudes of individuals about race. People all over America who voted for our current President are surely still racist in some sense. As Professor Davis reminds us, it is American institutions that silently enforce racism in America.”

Davis insisted that we focus on entire communities in order to “grasp at the root” of the causes of racism, sexism, and poverty.

A. Lindsay O’Connor Professor of American Institutions Angela Hattery was especially inspired by Davis’s lecture. Professor Hattery first became familiar with Angela Davis as a sophomore in college when she came to speak at Hattery’s school. Ever since then, she has been deeply inspired by Davis.

“My own teaching and research has been heavily influenced by Angela Davis,” Hattery said. “I continue to assign her works in my classes, and in my research I have adapted her notion of intersectionality in ways that allow me to examine everything from intimate partner violence to the prison industrial complex [and] contribute to sociological research in these areas.”

Hattery certainly felt that this lecture lived up to her expectations.

“I thought her lecture was terrific!” Hattery said. “Angela Davis has a real presence, and she is just as impressive today as she was when I first saw her in 1986.”

There was a book signing and reception at the Chapel after the lecture, during which students could pose questions to Davis.