01 June 2020
getty images
getty images

ON 4 JUNE 1972, the activist and author Angela Davis is embraced by her companion Victoria Mercado after an all-white jury in San Jose, California acquitted her of kidnapping, murder and conspiracy. A member of the Black Panthers and the Communist Party USA, Davis was fired from her post as an acting assistant professor of philosophy at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1969, because of her CPUSA membership. She continued delivering public lectures, and a campaign for her reinstatement received international attention. A judge ruled that she could not be fired solely for being a communist and reinstated her, but the UCLA Board of Regents fired her again, for using “inflammatory language” in speeches, such as “her repeated characterizations of the police as ‘pigs.’”

Davis was a vocal supporter of the “Soledad Brothers,” three African-American inmates at the Soledad State Prison who were accused of murdering a white prison guard—minutes after a grand jury ruled that another guard’s killing of three Soledad inmates was justifiable homicide. On 7 August 1970, Jonathan Jackson, the brother of one of the accused, took a judge, prosecutor and three jurors hostage at a county courthouse, demanding the release of the Soledad Brothers. As Jackson and three undertrial prisoners attempted to flee, the police opened fire. The judge, as well as Jackson and two prisoners, were killed in the crossfire.

Davis had purchased the weapons Jackson used, and was charged with the judge’s murder. She went into hiding until the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which had placed her on its Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, arrested her in New York on 13 October. An international campaign for her release soon began—James Baldwin wrote a book dedicated to her, while John Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote a song about her. Davis was granted bail, for a surety of $100,000, on 23 February 1972, before being cleared of all charges.