A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
for Angela Davis
Nothing made her angrier than silence
(and inaction)— made her skin prickle.
Even as a child, she’d break up
a dogfight on the hot streets of Birmingham.
Dynamite Hill named for the Klan bombs
meant to scare the blacks away.
Was she a Black Panther?
For a year. No place for a scholar,
even one who found herself among
the 10 Most Wanted—
Why did she run, pull on the floppy wig,
hide out in Echo Park? Not just that her gun
had been used in the shootout.
Not just the death threats
(sometimes thirty a day). Who would believe
she hadn’t known?
Drive by night to Las Vegas, Chicago,
Miami. In the hotel in Greenwich Village
they find her. After she’s in cuffs, a black officer,
a sister, whispers:
We were hoping you’d get to somewhere safe.
Preparing for trial, smoking seven packs a day
(still a gas chamber in California). Among
the butches and femmes, heroin addicts
with their leprous arms, teaching Marxist theory
to women who could barely read.
Copyright 2016 Joan E. Bauer. First published in Home Planet News. Republished by permission of the author.
Davis enters Royce Hall at UCLA in October 1969 to give her first lecture. Davis was an assistant professor in the philosophy department at UCLA. At that time, she was known as a radical feminist and activist and an associate of the Black Panther Party. She was arrested by the FBI in 1970.
A side note from Joan Bauer: My late husband Paul Kaplow and I were both at UCLA in October 1969. He was enrolled in Angela Davis’s philosophy class.
My recollection is that because the UC Regents thought she would influence her students with her “communist beliefs” they might be able to mitigate that influence if she were not allowed to give grades. So everyone enrolled received a pass or fail. I’m not joking. Paul said she was the best professor he ever had at UCLA, and her philosophy lectures were brilliant, scholarly and very compelling.
About that 1969 photo above: The fellow to the right in a suit & tie looks a lot like Paul. Spooky! Except that Paul wore glasses and would have been wearing his usual purple shirt and leather jacket (trying to look as cool as possible). He was a physics student. We were on-and-off a couple even then, and finally got around to getting married in 1977.