Angela Davis, Commie stooge

Davis in 2016 with Gloria Steinem and Elizabeth Sackler

As we saw on Thursday, Angela Davis, a Black Panther member, fan of the Soviet Union, and two-time Communist Party candidate for President of the U.S. who was acquitted in 1972 of a death-penalty crime of which she was clearly guilty, is now, in the eyes of many on the left, an éminence grise. From time to time she is handed major accolades; three years ago, presenting her with an award intended for women of supreme accomplishment, Elizabeth Sackler, chairman of the Brooklyn Museum, called her “the embodiment of all we hold dear.”

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Next month she was supposed to receive yet another award, this one from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which is based in her native city of Birmingham, Alabama. By giving her the Fred Shuttleworth Human Rights Award, the institute intended to recognize Davis for her support of the Palestinian people. But in the first week of January, the institute’s board announced that it had changed its collective mind. This decision was prominently reported in the New York Times, in which reporter Niraj Chokshi, in his opening paragraph, described Davis as “the activist and scholar” and conveyed the news that Davis herself was “stunned.”

Niraj Chokshi

Why did the folks in Birmingham decide not to give Angela Davis an award? Answer: because she supports a boycott of Israel. The question, of course, really should be why they decided to give her an award in the first place. Given what else is on her résumé, her hatred for Israel and Jews is just one more moral outrage among many. Another question is how the Birmingham group could have been so clueless about Davis’s attitude toward Jews and Israel; a quick Google search would have made it clear that she’s an anti-Semite of the first water. Apparently the answer is that the folks in Birmingham weren’t clueless about her Jew-hatred: they didn’t care about it until local Jews, including the people who run the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center, started making a fuss about the planned award.

Angela Davis today

In any event, what was interesting about the Times article was not the tidings about the prize itself but Chokshi’s take on it. For one thing, he identified Davis as a sometime “global hero of the left who has since earned renown for her scholarship.” Later in his article, Chokshi repeated this ridiculous claim: “she has been recognized for her scholarship and activism around feminism and against mass incarceration.” Scholarship? What scholarship? This woman has never been anything but a race hustler, ideological scold, and brazen self-promoter.

Accepting the Lenin Prize in Moscow

In a statement on Facebook, Angela described the revocation of the award as “not primarily an attack against me but rather against the very spirit of the indivisibility of justice.” It’s pretty rich for this woman – who should have been executed half a century ago or at least have spent the last half century behind bars – to talk about “justice.”

But Chokshi seemed blissfully ignorant of the facts of Davis’s history. Either that, or he chose not to share those facts with Times readers. Instead he presented the standard whitewash of the story of Davis’s trial, which depicts her as an innocent bystander who was wrongly charged:

Professor Davis became a global progressive leader nearly half a century ago. At the time, she was agitating on behalf of three California inmates accused of murdering a white prison guard when guns she had purchased were used in an attack that was aimed at freeing the inmates but left four people dead, including the assailant.

She was not present during the attack and witnesses testified that the guns were purchased for defense, but Professor Davis nonetheless spent 16 months in jail before an all-white jury acquitted her of all charges. In the interim, “Free Angela” had become a rallying cry.

Note the slick twist here: instead of sharing the facts about Davis’s masterminding of the conspiracy to free her husband – which would have led at least some readers to wonder why she was acquitted and how Davis could possibly be considered a human-rights icon – Chokshi deep-sixed Davis’s central role in the whole business, thereby prodding readers to be outraged that poor Angela had to spend sixteen months in jail and to accept the verdict as legit because the jury was “all-white.”

Chokshi also put a neat spin on Davis’s take on Israel and the Palestinians: at a time, she wrote, when “polls of young people” in the U.S. “show support growing for the Palestinian cause” and when state laws restricting contractors from boycotting Israel “are being challenged as violations of First Amendment rights” (facts that have no place in Chokshi’s article except by way of suggesting that Davis is on the right side of this issue), Davis has “joined prominent black celebrities and thinkers in comparing the struggles of Palestinians to those of African-Americans.”

Cathy Young

What Chokshi neglected to mention is that, as Cathy Young noted in a January 9 piece for the Forward, Davis’s “stance toward Israel…includes the embrace of convicted terrorists Rasmea Odeh and Marwan Barghouti.” Chokshi also ignored Davis’s slavish, see-no-evil defense of the USSR and Cuba, including, as Young pointed out, her consistent refusal to stand up for gays, women, and political prisoners in Communist countries. No, Angela Davis is the furthest thing possible from a human-rights heroine: she is a fervent lifelong enthusiast for totalitarianism, a woman whom lovers of freedom and equality should regard with nothing but contempt.

Angela Davis, human-rights heroine?

Davis in her heyday

In June 2016, when the Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art presented Angela Davis with an award for “women who are first in their fields,” we provided readers with a brief account of Ms. Davis’s accomplishments.

To wit: a card-carrying American Communist Party member from her youth, she attended Communist May Day celebrations in East Berlin when it was still East Berlin, joined the Black Panthers, and studied at Humboldt University, also in East Berlin. Later teaching at UCLA, she was fired twice – the first time for her Communist Party membership, the second time (after a judge ordered her rehired) for giving “inflammatory” speeches in which, for example, she called police officers “pigs.” After her then husband, George Jackson, a fellow Communist and Black Panther leader, was sent to Soledad State Prison for pulling off five armed robberies, Davis masterminded an effort to spring him. As we wrote in 2016:

On the lam

On August 7, 1970, Jackson’s 17-year-old brother, Jonathan, entered a Marin County courtroom in which another punk, James McClain, was on trial for murdering a prison guard. Jonathan brought with him plenty of weapons, which he handed to Clain and to two other convicts who were present in the courtroom as witnesses. Jonathan and the three jailbirds then took hostage the presiding judge, Harold Haley, a father of three, along with the prosecutor and three of the jurors.

Jonathan and the convicts took their hostages out of the courthouse and drove off with them in a van. Jonathan’s goal was to hijack a plane, fly the hostages to Cuba, and exchange them for his brother’s freedom. But he didn’t get that far. At a roadblock, he and his pals got into a shootout with police. Jonathan, Judge Haley, and the two convicts were killed; the prosecutor was paralyzed for life; and a juror was injured. It was soon discovered that some of the guns Jonathan had brought into the courtroom had been purchased by Davis only days earlier. Charged with conspiracy, kidnapping, and murder and placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List, Davis took it on the lam; after a few months underground, she was tracked down by cops at a Howard Johnson’s motel in Manhattan.

On trial

Her husband George having died in an escape attempt (in which he cut the throats of three prison guards), Davis was tried for her part in the attempt to spring him. The Kremlin led a worldwide campaign to paint her as mounting a courageous challenge to the capitalist system. Useful idiots like Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Despite ample evidence of guilt, Davis was found not guilty. Her acquittal was later compared to that in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, in that both defendants had lawyers who successfully painted them as victims of racism.

With one of her heroes

Now world-famous, Davis spent a few years in Cuba, went to Moscow to accept the Lenin Prize, and twice ran for vice president of the U.S. on the Communist Party line. For many on the left, she served as a feminist icon and a symbol of brave resistance to racist oppression. She has taught at many major universities and is now a “Distinguished Professor Emerita” at the University of California, Santa Cruz. And her distinction has been ratified by awards, including the 2016 honor from the Brooklyn Museum.

She was scheduled to receive yet another accolade next month – namely, the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award, which is presented annually by a civil-rights organization in her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. But during the first week of January came a shocking announcement: Angela Davis wouldn’t be getting the award after all. What happened? We’ll get to that on Tuesday.

Angela Davis, first in her field

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Angela Davis (center), with Gloria Steinem and Elizabeth Sackler

In early June, the Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art –which is named for the historian who is the current president of that museum – presented Angela Davis with the 2016 Sackler Center First Award, which honors “women who are first in their fields.”

Who is Angela Davis? Her name may mean nothing to most younger Americans. To those over a certain age, however, she’s a very familiar figure.

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Davis in her heyday

Born in Alabama in 1944, Davis joined the American Communist Party at an early age. While studying at the University of Frankfurt, she took part in activities sponsored by the radical Socialist German Student Union and attended May Day celebrations in what was then East Berlin. She later joined the Black Panthers and received a doctorate in philosophy from Humboldt University, also in East Berlin. She went on to teach at UCLA, where the regents fired her in 1969 because of her Communist Party membership. Rehired by the university on orders from a judge, she was fired again after using “inflammatory language” (such as calling the police “pigs”) in several speeches.

Then she became world-famous. It happened like this.

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George Jackson

Davis was in love with, and secretly married to, a gangster named George Jackson, who, like her, was a Communist and Black Panther leader. After he committed five armed robberies, he was caught, tried, convicted, and incarcerated at Soledad State Prison in California. The Black Panthers later published a collection of his prison letters; Davis, for her part, spearheaded an effort to secure his release, along with that of two fellow Marxists who were also confined at Soledad. The men were collectively known as the Soledad Brothers. 

On August 7, 1970, Jackson’s 17-year-old brother, Jonathan, entered a Marin County courtroom in which another punk, James McClain, was on trial for murdering a prison guard. Jonathan brought with him plenty of weapons, which he handed to McClain and to two other convicts who were present in the courtroom as witnesses. Jonathan and the three jailbirds then took hostage the presiding judge, Harold Haley, a father of three, along with the prosecutor and three of the jurors. 

- - Group leaves the the Civic Center with a shotgun taped around Judge Harold Haley's neck. The inmate at left, James McClain, was fatally wounded in the van as it attempted escape. (IJ photo/Roger Bockrath)
James McClain (with gun, left), Jonathan Jackson, and comrades leave the the Marin County Civic Center with Judge Haley and other hostages (note the shotgun taped around Haley’s neck)

Jonathan and the convicts took their hostages out of the courthouse and drove off with them in a van. Jonathan’s goal was to hijack a plane, fly the hostages to Cuba, and exchange them for his brother’s freedom. But he didn’t get that far. At a roadblock, he and his pals got into a shootout with police. Jonathan, Judge Haley, and the two convicts were killed; the prosecutor was paralyzed for life; and a juror was injured. It was soon discovered that some of the guns Jonathan had brought into the courtroom had been purchased by Davis only days earlier. Charged with conspiracy, kidnapping, and murder and placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List, Davis took it on the lam; after a few months underground, she was tracked down by cops at a Howard Johnson’s motel in Manhattan.

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Davis is taken into custody

Meanwhile George Jackson had died. Using a gun smuggled into his cell (he was now at San Quentin), perhaps by his lawyer, Jackson, in consort with six fellow prisoners, took three guards hostage, bound them, and cut their throats. Jackson was then shot to death trying to make his escape. His comrades in the American Communist Party described it as a “murder.”

As for Angela Davis, she went on trial. Among American Communist leaders, there was disagreement about what position the Party should take on her case. For some, her actions were a bridge too far. For others – well, we’ll get around to that tomorrow.