Angela Davis is not remembered for trying to free the Soledad Brothers, for making the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List, for sparking a worldwide "Free Angela Davis" campaign. She is remembered for her Afro hairstyle, and she doesn't like it one bit.
That's what Ms. Davis told a standing-room only crowd of 575 people last night at Center Stage's "Theater for a New Generation" program, which was designed for young adults who recognize Ms. Davis only because her funky 'fro has come back into style.
"I am remembered as a hairdo," Ms. Davis said. "It is humiliating because it reduces a politics of liberation to a politics of fashion."
Ms. Davis said she does not like being known as "The Afro" and blamed " '70s fashion nostalgia" for obfuscating the importance of learning from her political struggle.
"The pertinent history of my legal case is empty of all content so it can be [made into a commodity] for the advertising industry," said Ms. Davis.
Her hair yesterday was in blond dreadlocks that fell below her shoulders. Her hairstyle has changed, but her political beliefs haven't.
Ms. Davis, 50, still is an ardent feminist, a harsh critic of the criminal justice system and a committed Marxist. Her speech was followed by a performance of August Wilson's "Two Trains Running," a play set in 1969. That year Ms. Davis became a celebrity. The California Board of Regents, led by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, fired her from the UCLA philosophy department for being a Communist.
In 1970, her increased militancy made Ms. Davis a national icon. She belonged to several radical black organizations and owned several guns, three of which were used in an Aug. 7 takeover of the Marin County courthouse that left four people, including a judge, dead.
The takeover was an attempt to free three unrelated prisoners, ++ known as the Soledad Brothers. Although Ms. Davis was not present at the courthouse, she was romantically involved with George Jackson, the most famous Soledad Brother. For owning the guns, Ms. Davis was charged with murder, kidnapping and conspiracy.
Ms. Davis spent two months on the run (making the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List) and 16 months in jail. She was acquitted of all charges.
Today, Ms. Davis is a tenured professor in the History of Consciousness program at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
A frequent lecturer, Ms. Davis is trying to create a new generation of activists who want to learn from her triumphs and defeats, not revive a forgotten fashion trend.
"The era of the '60s and early '70s has come to be idealized and romanticized," Ms. Davis said. "It frightens me to listen to young people, who, of course, weren't born at that time talk about that period."