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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

As for the health of the Communist Party U.S.A., Davis, who shared the national ticket with chairman Gus Hall in 1980 and 1984, says it "has a potential" to be a cutting-edge organization once again and she notes that "many of the (other) organizations that had considered themselves radical and revolutionary in the past are gone."

Angela Davis is a child of the South who grew up in Birmingham when it was zoned for blacks and for whites and the Davises couldn't legally cross the street in front of their house into a white zone.

She left Birmingham at 15 when, through an American Friends Service Committee program, she was able to enroll in a private school in New York. Then came graduation magna cum laude from Brandeis University and studies at the Sorbonne and at university in Frankfurt, Germany.

Today, she's just one of the neighbors in the community in the hills of Oakland where she has lived for the last 10 years, a community that is now largely black. "It's not really a neighborhood," she says but, rather, a place where working people live. "I miss the kind of relationships that neighbors had when I was growing up."

The flip side of that coin is that it affords her privacy. She has what she describes as a "cup of flour" relationship with next-door neighbor Albertine Foster, the widow of Marcus Foster, the black Oakland schools superintendent who was shot to death in November, 1973, by members of the Symbionese Liberation Army. It was the first act claimed by the SLA, which three months later kidnaped Patricia Hearst.

Keeping in Touch

Davis is still in touch with old friends, including Johnnie Spain, who was a co-defendant in the trial of the San Quentin Six, implicated in the bloody escape attempt in which George Jackson, three guards and two other inmates died. "He just got out last month," Davis says. "We're close . . . we visit each other."

But UCLA seems hardly more than an episode in her life. If the university were to offer her a professorship today, she says, laughing, "I might think about it."

Her only marriage, in 1980, to Hilton Braithwaite, a photographer who was a faculty colleague at San Francisco State, ended in divorce several years later.

Her life is busy. She is a founder and co-chair of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, on behalf of which she has led demonstrations in 48 states since 1972. She is on the national board of the National Political Congress of Black Women and on the board of the Atlanta-based National Black Women's Health Project.

In 1985, in Nairobi, she led hundreds of women in a protest against the appointment of the President's daughter, Maureen Reagan, as head of the U.S. delegation to the U.N. Conference on Women.

The Lecture Circuit

Frequently, Davis lectures on college campuses--"there is no way that I could possibly accept" all the requests, she says. "Young people who were hardly born in the late '60s seem to be not only concerned about racism, sexism, issues affecting working people" but want to act on those concerns.

Sure, they also want to get their MBAs and get on with the business of making money but that, says Davis, is nothing new.

In the '60s, she says, "white students would come out en masse around issues related to the war in Vietnam. They would not come out en masse to defend black political prisoners or associate themselves with the Black Panther Party." Today, she believes, white students understand that fighting racism is not an act of charity but is very much in their self-interest.

Davis' widowed mother, Sallye, a retired schoolteacher, is a frequent visitor to Oakland, but still spends some time in Birmingham, in the Victorian house in which Davis was reared.

Remembering how the youngsters used to think it was a haunted house, Angela Davis smiles and says, "My mother's now working fervently on having it declared an historical monument."

caption--ANGELA inside--three line window quote

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