“Activist, Academic, Author, and Icon: The History of Angela Davis in San Diego” – Anica Quizon

Angela Yvonne Davis was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1944. She is known for her political activism for black civil rights, as well as her contributions to the academic community and her involvement in the Communist Party and other organizations. Angela Davis has a rich history in the city of San Diego, and her activism and advocacy has reached all corners of the country, including San Diego County. Throughout her life, Davis has grappled with the issues of racism, sexism, and other political, social, and economic structures of oppression. During her time in San Diego, she tackled these issues and has contributed a great deal to the history of African American resistance through her involvement in and institution of organizations that are dedicated to improving the lives of black people in this city.

Davis and her three siblings grew up during the years of segregation in an all-black neighborhood in Birmingham nicknamed “Dynamite Hill” because it was frequently bombed by Ku Klux Klan members. Davis and her siblings faced racism daily during their childhood, and they were raised to be politically active. Fania Davis, Angela’s younger sister, worked with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during her summers, and their mother Sallye Davis, throughout college and adulthood, spoke out against racism and unemployment and instilled in her children a sense of dignity and worth as African Americans.[1] This ideology is evident throughout Angela Davis’ activism and contributions to the black community.

Davis, even as a child, was very studious, and earned a scholarship to study at Elizabeth Irwin High School in New York. She then went to study at Brandeis University. She later attended Humboldt University of Berlin, but felt a calling to be closer to the social movement occurring in the black community and decided to continue her studies at the University of California San Diego, where she earned her degree in 1969. It was here that she made a large impact in the black community of San Diego. [2]

The 1960s was a turbulent time for the black community across the country. Lack of civil rights and unequal employment opportunities for African Americans drove Davis to be the activist we know of today. It was during her graduate years at UCSD that Davis became involved with organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Black Panther Party. While in San Diego, she looked for other organizations she wanted to join, but the one she wanted to join did not yet exist. It was because of this that she became a founding member of UCSD’s Black Student Union. Her involvement in the BSU “eventually developed into a movement demanding Black studies on the campus and an entire college devoted to the needs of Black students, as well as Latino students and White working class students,” Davis explained.[3] The Black Student Union at the University of California San Diego continues to be a strong resource and place for resistance and solidarity for black students today.

During her time at UCSD, she advocated for the need for academic resources for black people and other people of color. In 1967, faculty, such as the advisor for the Mexican student organization on campus, or MEChA, and the advisor of the Black Student Council were key figures in advocating for the establishment of a third college, whose main focus would be liberal arts. However, the biggest push was the student support. Students gathered at the center of the campus to hear their enthusiastic fellow students speak on behalf of this movement: one of these students being Angela Davis, whose voice was an impactful force in the institution of what would be called Thurgood Marshall College. TMC founders demanded that admissions to the college be at least 70 percent people of color, and its architecture was to be influenced by African and Mexican architecture. Its academic focus included environmental studies, ethnic studies of all focuses, health sciences, foreign languages, and others. Its philosophy was that liberal arts studies cannot exist without understanding diversity. Davis said the founding of the third college was “‘to provide Black and Brown students the knowledge and skills we needed in order to more effectively wage our liberation struggles.”[4] Angela Davis’ and other students’ support made Thurgood Marshall College one of the six colleges at the University of California San Diego.[5]

In addition to her contributions to the UCSD campus, Davis is also known for her contributions to academia as a whole. Davis has been characterized as a “pioneer” of integrative race, gender, and class studies, or RGC studies. Her book published in 1981 titled Women, Race, & Class was an essential contribution to RGC studies. In her book, Davis argues that black women’s voices deserve scholarly recognition, and that black experience from the perspective of women illustrates the intersectionality of race, gender, and class systems.[6] This book continues to have a lasting impact on integrative RGC studies with the idea that intersectionality affects various academic disciplines.

Davis was inspired to write Women, Race, & Class because of her firsthand experiences of how gender inequality and racism intersect. In a 1989 interview, she reminisced about her involvement with SNCC, which is when she realized that the role of women in the civil rights movement was greatly overlooked. Davis argued that, “The Civil Rights Movement would not have been what it was without the roles of Fannie Lou Hamer and Daisy Bates and Ella Baker and Ruby Doris Robinson and Jo Ann Robinson and we can go on and on and on.”[7] In this same interview, she discussed how the struggled and stories of women – specifically pregnant women, mothers, and women of color, in prisons are often erased or dismissed, speaking from her own experience following her arrest for her involvement in a politically charged murder case in 1970. After her arrest, she was placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted List and was labeled a “dangerous terrorist” by President Richard Nixon. This opened her eyes to the the threat black women posed to the government and to the white man, which further drove her political and social activist efforts.

Angela Davis’ activism centered on how different forms of oppression overlap and intersect between different groups of people. Although a small portion of her activism occurred in the city of San Diego during the late 1960s, its lasting effects can be seen today through UCSD’s Black Student Union and the Thurgood Marshall College. In addition, her activism and academic accomplishments created waves in the African American community and in other communities affected by structures of oppression. Angela Davis is now a distinguished professor emerita at the University of California Santa Cruz where her concentrations are philosophy, feminist studies, and African American studies.


[1] Perry, M. E. (1971, Aug 19). Angela’s sister dedicated to her defense. Oakland Post (1968-1981)

[2] Wilks, M. (2004, Feb 11). Icons in black; the fight of angela davis. Call & Post

[3] (1989, May 24). Interview with Angela Davis. Home – Washington University Digital Gateway.


[4] Pat Jacoby. (2009, Apr 8) “April 24 Event Will Mark Era of “Lumumba-Zapata College”.”

[5] The TMC History Project.” A Short History :: Celebrating TMC’s 40th Anniversary – Thurgood Marshall College :: UC San Diego’s Third College

[6] Barnett, Bernice McNair. (Jul 31, 2003) “Angela Davis and Women, Race, & Class: A Pioneer in Integrative RGC Studies.” Race, Gender & Class 10, no. 3

[7] “Interview with Angela Davis. (1989, May 24)” Home – Washington University Digital Gateway. Interviewed by Terry Rockefeller and Louis Massiah

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  1. Pingback: “From Generation to Generation:” AS hosts racial justice panel with Angela Davis and Salih Muhammed - UCSD Guardian

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