Born in Birmingham, Alabama on 26 January 1944, Angela Yvonne Davis grew up in a segregated society that was about to experience a great deal of change. Gifted with a brilliant mind, Davis applied for a program operated by the American Friends Service Committee that allowed minority children growing up in the Deep South region of the United States to seek an education in racially integrated schools in the northern part of the country.
At the age of fourteen, Angela Davis began classes at the Elizabeth Irwin High School, located in Greenwich Village in New York. It was during her time at Elizabeth Irwin that Davis had the change to learn about the tenets of socialism and communism. Eventually, Angela Davis became active with the Advance program, which was sponsored by the Communist Party USA. Davis also associated with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) while attending college.
After completing her education, Angela Davis began work as an acting assistant professor on the campus of the University of California in Los Angeles. During this time, Davis had become to self-identify as a radical feminist, social activist, and as a member of the emerging Black Panther party. Her presence on the campus of UCLA was briefly interrupted when she was fired in late 1969. The reason given was her active membership in the Communist Party, rather than any mention of her socialist philosophies or her involvement with the Black Panthers. A strong and vocal show of support for Davis from the community led to a reversal of her firing.
During the summer of 1970, Angela Davis appeared to become more involved in Black Panther activity. At the same time, the Black Panther movement was receiving more national attention, not all of it positive. Some of this was due to the support of the leaders of the Black Panther movement for the so-called Soledad Brothers, three men who were incarcerated at Soledad Prison in California. An attempt to take hostages at the trial of a third party, James McClain, led to the shooting death of several people. Among those who died was Judge Harold Haley, who was killed while being abducted. The gun used to kill Haley was purportedly registered under the name of Angela Davis.
Named as an accomplice to the murder, Davis fled California and was eventually captured in New York two months later. After eighteen months, Angela Davis was tried and acquitted of all charges associated with the attempted abduction and the subsequent deaths of Haley and others.
Upon her release, Angela Davis spent several years in Cuba, where she was warmly received. While a staunch supporter for the Socialist regime in the Soviet Union and also an avid worker for prison reform, Davis was often accused of ignoring the conditions endured by prisoners in Soviet prisons, choosing instead to focus on the need for prison reform in the United States.
During the 1980s Angela Davis ran for vice-president on the Communist Party ticket on two occasions, and also wrote the first of several books. Davis has continued to lobby for prison reforms, identifying herself as a prison abolitionist. A popular guest speaker around the country, Angela Davis current serves as a Professor of History of Consciousness at the University of California, as well as Presidential Chair for the University of California campus in Santa Cruz. Angela Davis continues to function as an activist in many causes, including prison reform, the struggle against the death penalty, and gender and racial equality.