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Angela And Assata: Black Radicals

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“Radical simply means ‘grasping things at the root’. ” – Angela Davis Assata Shakur and Angela Davis are two women that were very monumental in the Civil Rights Movement. These women fought and worked beside the men of the Black Panthers and other organizations to make a change. Angela Davis is best known for her radical teachings and being an activist. While she was didn’t promoted violence, she believed that peacefully protesting was an oxymoron.

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On the other end of the spectrum lies Assata Shakur. Nowadays, Shakur is infamous for escaping prison and residing in Cuba. While Davis worked beside the Black Panthers, Shakur became irritable with the refusal to work beside other black organizations. The two women may have shared different radical beliefs, they both fought towards the same goal: equality and civil rights for African Americans. Angela Yvonne Davis was born on January 26, 1944, in Birmingham, Alabama to an elementary school teacher and the owner of a service station (Dwayne Mack, n. d). The family resided in an area that went by the name of Dynamite Hill. This area went by this name because it was known for being frequently visited and bombed by the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.

Since the family lived in this area, it struck her mother, Sallye, to be a very active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). This is very important because, during that time in society, it was very dangerous for a woman to be outwardly associated with the association. Sallye’s involvement in the organization is what originally introduced Angela to the civil rights movement. Angela and her mother both moved to New York to pursue her mother’s higher education, while she attended a high school known for its blacklisted and communist teachers. In 1963, Angela found her way back to the civil rights movements when six young girls were murdered in the bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. This bombing inspired her to want to make a change in how African Americans as a whole were being treated. With her newly sparked interest in the civil rights movement, she found herself being strongly fond and influenced by Black Power advocates and later the Black Panthers. During this time in 1967, she also joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. A year later, Davis received her master’s degree and also joined the American Communist Party.

Following her membership in the party, she became an assistant professor at the University of California Los Angeles but was soon fired due to her involvement in the association. Upon being fired, Ronald Reagan swore that Davis would never teach in the University of California education system. Angela’s involvement with the civil rights movement did not stop at the church bombing. In the early 1970s, she was known for her fight to better prison conditions. Her most famous release was that of the Soledad Brothers. Even though the release of the Soledad Brothers was successful, Angela and her team had a problem releasing another set of prisoners. On August 7, 1970, they attempted to free activist George Jackson from the Marion County courthouse (Darlene Dancy, 2014). During this failed attempt, Judge Harold Hardy, Jackson, and two others were murdered in the crossfire. This aborted mission led to Davis being charged as a co-conspirator due to the guns that were used were registered in her name (Mack). Davis was placed on a very high profile trial but was eventually acquited of her charges in 1972. Even though Davis was acquited of all charges, she was placed on the FBI’s most wanted list due to her fleeing police (Jone Lewis, n. d). Three years after Angela Davis was born, Joanne Deborah Byron graced the world. Byron was born in New York City on July 16, 1947. At the young age of three, her parents divorced, which resulted in the move to North Carolina with her mother. Soon enough, her mother returned to New York and she rotated residencies between Wilmington and New York City. Joanne had her first taste of activism once she enrolled at the City College of New York. There, she was exposed to and became fond of the Black Nationalist. Her exposure to the organization is what jump started her career in activism. A trip to Oakland, California in 1970 is what initiated the brand of the activist that is known today.

During that trip to Oakland, Joanne met with the members of the Black Panther Party. This meeting furthered her interest in the civil rights movement and with the organization as a whole. Upon her return to New York, Joanne joined the Harlem branch of the organization. As a result of her newfound membership, in 1971, Joanne also changed her name to Assata Olugbala Shakur. Each name that she chose had a signficant meaning; with Assata representing “she who struggles”, Olugbla “love for the people” and the surname Shakur meaning “the thankful” (Terry Anne Scott, n. d). Assata was very active in her new organization, as she worked in their breakfast program. Shortly after the monumental name change, Assata became wary and questionning of the organization. Shakur found it strange and also had a problem with the Black Panthers not working with or supporting other black organizations. Assata claimed that the Black Panthers refused to and were very hesitant in joining forces with other organizations that could have likely helped them advance in the community. Shortly after joining the Black Panthers, Assata grew tired of questionning motives and left to join the Black Liberation Army in 1971. The Black Liberation Army was, at the time, branded by the FBI as an anarchist organization. Shakur’s membership in the Army began to rise some mischeif in her life. In 1972, the FBI issued several warrants for her arrest due to crimes she committed with the group. Even though these warrants were issued, she was never arrested on these charges.

On May 2, 1973, Shakur and two other members of the Black Liberation Army were pulled over on the New Jersey Turnpike for a routine traffic stop. This stop would change Shakur’s life. During the stop, Assata’s close friend, Zayd Shakur, and a state trooper, Werner Forester were killed. Assata claims that she was innocent in the dispute and had suffered a gunshot wound that left her left arm paralyzed, therefore rendering her incapable of firing a weapon. With this information, and the wounds to corroborate the story, Assata was acquited on charges of first degree murder. Although Shakur was acquited of that charge, she went to trial seven times for Trooper Forester’s murder. She was found guilty on March 25, 1977 and was sentenced to thirty years in prison. Prison did not mean much for Assata and did not stop her activist efforts. While imprisoned, Shakur concieved her daughter, which caused a mistrial because of the consideration of her pregnancy (Virginia Law Archives, 1977). It was no secret that the facility that Shakur was being held at had poor security practices. On the night of November 2, 1978, two members of the Black Liberation Army took advantge of this fact and broke Assata out of jail. Shakur was able to quietly hideout in Pittsburgh for six years. After this time, in 1984, Assata found herself seeking political refuge and asylum and was granted just that in Cuba, where she was also able to reunite with her daughter that was delivered in prison. In 2013, Assata Olugbala Shakur was placed on the FBI’s most wanted list as a domestic terrorist. She was placed on the list on the 30th anniversary of State Trooper Forester’s death. She is the first woman to be placed on the list and the second to be named as a domestic terrorist. Her bounty is placed at two million dollars (Scott, n. d). Angela Davis has always expressed her support for Assata Shakur.

During the Black Panther and other black power organization era, a multitude of people were wrongly convicted, including Shakur. Davis states that these cases of wrongful convictions require a radical response to provide change. Therefore, continuing the act of being known for her radical teachings. As of 2016, government efforts were made to retrieve Assata from Havana, but the Cuban government refused and stated they had no intentions of releasing her to authorities.

29 April 2020

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