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Angela Davis Now : On a Quiet Street in Oakland, the Former Radical Activist Has Settled In but Not Settled Down

March 08, 1989|BEVERLY BEYETTE | Times Staff Writer

OAKLAND — The house, a tile-roofed California ranch style on a quiet hillside street, is a cookie-cutter copy of its neighbors. But the replica of an FBI "most wanted" poster that hangs in a hallway is a portrait of the woman of the house. She is Angela Davis.

At a cursory glance, the other trappings suggest a sellout, a capitulation to bourgeois values: two dogs, leather sofas, glass tables, a deck with a view.

But there's that poster. And, sharing wall space in the living and dining rooms, a "Free Nelson Mandela" bill and a faded photo of black shanties in the shadow of the steel mills in Birmingham, Ala., near where Davis grew up.

Angela Davis, at 45, has not retreated from the war against racism and sexism and political oppression wherever she sees those things. Perhaps, she acknowledges, "there's a certain mellowing that comes with the process of aging. One becomes a little less impatient . . . but I don't like to think of myself as having mellowed."

'I'm Still Passionately Concerned'

"I think that I'm still as intensely and passionately concerned about all of these issues as I was 20 years ago."

One thing that is gone is the exaggerated Afro. A cascade of brown dreadlocks now frames the familiar face. Davis is wearing a purple tunic top over tight jeans tucked into gray cowboy boots with silver nailheads. She is tall, and very slender.

Settling on a sofa, she stretches out her legs and fields a question about Winnie Mandela, the embattled heroine of black South Africa and wife of jailed African National Congress leader Nelson R. Mandela. Recently, Mandela was accused of aiding her bodyguards in fatally beating a black teen-ager she accused of being a police informant.

Davis and Winnie Mandela have never met, but she says, "I feel very connected with her" in her enduring fight for the rights of black people.

She adds, "I can't say what Winnie Mandela did and what she didn't do, but I do know that she is a woman of courage . . . that she has come to be synonymous with the quest for liberation in South Africa and therefore the assault on her has the objective impact of weakening the movement."

It is significant, she believes, that the accusations against Mandela, whose husband is serving a life sentence, "come at a time when the anti-apartheid movement around the world is not as active as it has been in recent times."

Davis says she is "very upset" that 14-year-old Stompie Mokhetsi Seipei was killed. But it disturbs her also that anti-apartheid groups there, urging blacks to distance themselves from Winnie Mandela, are "announcing to the world that she was bad" rather than sitting down and engaging in dialogue.

'An Intensely Loyal Woman'

She "can't imagine," she says, that Winnie Mandela could have committed the atrocities charged but, she adds, "she is an intensely loyal woman and maybe reluctant to disassociate herself from people who have protected her."

Davis is being interviewed on the eve of a promotional tour for her new book, "Women, Culture, & Politics," in which she singles out Winnie Mandela for her "tenacity and resilience," her "unrelenting courage" and "a gentleness that endears her to most."

In her book, she also addresses the empowerment of Afro-American women, the politics of black women's health, the black family and "the crisis of capitalism"--and she urges black women to become involved in the campaign against nuclear arms.

At 7 p.m. Thursday Davis is to speak at the Sisterhood Bookstore in Westwood, close by the UCLA campus where she rocketed to prominence in 1969 when the UC Board of Regents fired her from her new two-year $9,600-a-year job as acting assistant professor of philosophy after learning that she was a member of the Communist Party U.S.A.

Twenty years have passed since her firing--which was appealed in the courts while she taught one year at UCLA--but was ultimately upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. The controversy split the campus and was a baptism by fire for the new young chancellor, Charles E. Young, who called it "a Greek tragedy." With strong support from the UCLA Academic Senate and, at the polls, from students, liberals rallied around Davis under the banner of "academic freedom" and charged "McCarthyism" by the conservative regents (then-Gov. Ronald Reagan was an ex-officio member).

Then, in August of 1970, only two months after the regents had fired her a second and final time, citing her continuing advocacy of "extreme" and revolutionary views, Davis was again in the news. She was charged with murder, kidnaping and conspiracy in a Marin County courtroom shootout in which a judge and three convicts were killed during an attack designed to gain freedom for "The Soledad Brothers," three black inmates accused of murdering a guard in Soledad State Prison. One of the "brothers" was Black Panther George Jackson, who was killed in a breakout attempt at San Quentin just a year later. Davis called his death "the loss of an irretrievable love."

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