Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Today’s book is Women, Race, and Class, by Angela Davis, and when I was reading this book in preparation for the episode last month, I left my copy of it out on my kitchen table. A person I know who is a generation older than I am walked past and raised her eyebrows and said “hmmm, Angela Davis, huh?” So I quickly grabbed the book and stuffed it in my bag. I shouldn’t have done that, no matter how controversial the book might have been, but the truth is, once I read the book I realized there was nothing to worry about anyway! It was just a history book. A really interesting, really readable history book, and a hugely important contribution to American history because it foregrounded and placed as central the experience of Black women. Angela Davis does continue to be a controversial figure though, and I’m so excited to discuss her life and this book with my reading partner, Brianna Jovahn. Welcome, Brianna!
Second only to me, Brianna knows Breaking Down Patriarchy better than anyone else in the world - she’s our editor so she’s been working tirelessly behind the scenes, listening to every word of every episode of the podcast. So we know each other really well, and Brianna, you have been an absolute joy to work with, etc. :)
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Brianna: My name is Brianna Jovahn and I am the creator of What Good the podcast. Initially, my goal was to climb up the corporate ladder, but the Lord said something differently. I’m from Cedar Hill, Texas and graduated from Cedar Hill High School. I went to Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas and graduated with an Accounting degree. After securing my first job, after college, I stayed in Houston for another year. I was away from family but so close to my friends, so I really wasn’t as focused as I should have been. My mom called me one day and asked what were my next steps in life, and I really could not answer. After taking some time to pray, I decided to move home to get my MBA.
Once I graduated from school a second time around, I was still unfulfilled with my life. I started working at ADP but I found an internship that allowed me to move to Los Angeles for two months. The day I saw the application, I immediately prayed because the move was going to cost me $5,000. I asked God if he could supply the cost, let’s make it happen. In God’s will, I was accepted in the program, and came up with the money within 2 weeks.That experience really helped me understand what’s for you is for you. All you have to do is walk into the opportunity.
Moving forward to where I am presently, I moved home from Los Angeles and for some reason, I felt like it was time to get my life together, officially. At this point, I was back in the corporate setting, but I also had a vision about a hobby I wanted to pursue in college, and that was radio. In college, I had so many friends that were creative. I had several friends who created a clothing brand, I knew someone that sold his own watches, someone who helped build the football stadium and the list went on. On top of that, our conversations were amazing, so I could only imagine what the show would include. So I’m back home, diving deep into my career, and the idea for the show came to me twice over from the original idea. It was more for me to learn about the local community of Dallas. I was still driving back and forth to Houston from Dallas and I felt the need to slow down. It was time to find out about my hometown, and that was the foundation of What’s Good podcast. It has been such an amazing journey to where I help and coach other podcasters. If that means editing the podcast, marketing, helping strategize shows, and so much more. I have never felt so fulfilled in my life.
Amy: And this is where I usually ask my guests what “Breaking Down Patriarchy” means to them. This will be a very different question for you, since you have literally heard every second of every episode, sometimes over and over. What was that like for you? Had you ever studied patriarchy before the podcast? What have been your favorite parts/episodes, have there been some parts that were hard? What have you learned?
Brianna: This podcast has been an eye opening experience for me because I never really thought about patriarchy. Growing up in a baptist household with my grandmother, she really showed me what it looked like to work and still tend to your family. As I was thinking about this question, it really reminded me of the scripture in the Bible, Proverbs 31(Read the Scripture). She cooked, cleaned, and received a degree at Prairie View, Texas. She was a prayer warrior for the family and exemplified everything to me of what a wife should be. My grandmother was like the go to of the family. If anything happened to her sisters, brothers, or any other family members, she would be the person everyone called.
I also grew up in a household where my father would get home before my mother, and he would cook to take the edge off her day. Even when I was a little girl, my mom went on a girl’s trip and my father attempted to do my hair. He definitely failed and my aunts had to rescue me, but he did the best he could. I also remember on pay days, he would slide my mother his paycheck, and trusted my mom to take care of the bills and the household.
One episode in particular that really resonated with me was the Sojourner Truth episode. I usually do research on my own once I finish listening to your episodes, but the amount of information I gained while listening meant the world to me. I have dealt with a couple of racism experiences in my life, from someone not wanting to sit next to me on a bus, pulled to the side at work to up my dressing game so I can be more respected within the office, and the list goes on. Even when I was working at GEICO, I should have been hired under the management acceleration program since I have two degrees, but they missed those two very important points on my resume. They then came back and told me it was too late to add me to the program because I had already started my position. So learning more about Sojourner Truth and hearing Rayna’s personal experience as well just gave me encouragement to keep pushing despite what happens in the world. I know I told you this before, but the support you gave Rayna also made me want to love you that much more, because it’s needed within a true friendship. We all go through personal things despite the fact that others may not have gone through the same situations. Just showing up and being of support goes a long way.
Amy: Let’s get to know Angela Davis - this is someone that you knew about, and you asked specifically to read something by her because you had always wanted to learn more, right?
Angela Davis was born on January 26, 1944, in Birmingham, Alabama, and we’re going to listen to a clip of her talking about her childhood. This is in response to a reporter asking her if she condones violence.
Davis attended a segregated black elementary school, and Angela’s mother, Sallye Bell Davis, was a national officer and leading organizer of the Southern Negro Youth Congress, an organization influenced by the Communist Party aimed at building alliances among African Americans in the South. Davis grew up surrounded by communist organizers and thinkers, who significantly influenced her intellectual development.
Other early influences were her church youth group and Sunday school, which she attended regularly. She also attributes much of her political involvement to the Girl Scouts of the United States of America, which she loved as a child and in which she marched and picketed to protest racial segregation in Birmingham.
By her junior year of high school, Davis had been accepted by an American Friends Service Committee (Quaker) program that placed black students from the South in integrated schools in the North, so she chose Elisabeth Irwin High School in Greenwich Village, and moved to New York.
Davis was awarded a scholarship to Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts (where Pauli Murray would become a professor right after Davis graduated). At Brandeis she was one of three black students in her class. She encountered the philosopher Herbert Marcuse at a rally during the Cuban Missile Crisis and became his student. She later said, "Herbert Marcuse taught me that it was possible to be an academic, an activist, a scholar, and a revolutionary." She worked part-time to earn enough money to travel to France and Switzerland and attended the eighth World Festival of Youth and Students in Helsinki, which was a Communist-sponsored festival, and she returned home in 1963 to an FBI interview about her attendance there.
During her second year at Brandeis, Davis decided to major in French and continued her intensive study of philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre (whom listeners will remember as the life partner of Simone de Beauvoir). She was in France when she learned of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, committed by members of the Ku Klux Klan, in which four black girls were killed. This is the bombing that we heard her describe just now, and she grieved deeply, as those girls were her neighbors.
In 1965, she graduated magna cum laude, and then went to Germany to continue studying, and when she returned to the US she was very interested in the Black Panther Party and the transformation of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to an all-black organization.
Beginning in 1969, Davis was an acting assistant professor in the philosophy department at UCLA (although both Princeton and Swarthmore had tried to recruit her). She was known as a radical feminist and activist, a member of the Communist Party, and an affiliate of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Black Panther Party. In 1969, the University of California initiated a policy against hiring Communists, and at their September 19, 1969, meeting, the Board of Regents fired Davis because of her membership in the Party, urged on by California Governor Ronald Reagan. There followed a back-and-forth where a judge determined that she couldn’t be fired because of her political affiliation, but then the Regents fired her again for the "inflammatory language" she had used in several of her speeches.
In 1970, an event occurred that would change Davis’ life: a heavily-armed 17-year-old African-American high-school student named Jonathan Jackson, went into a courtroom in Marin County, California where black defendants were on trial. He armed the defendants and took the judge, the prosecutor, and three female jurors as hostages. As Jackson transported the hostages and the two black defendants away from the courtroom, one of the defendants, James McClain, shot at the police, and the police returned fire. The judge and the three black men were killed and one of the jurors and the prosecutor were injured. It was soon discovered that Angela Davis had purchased several of the firearms Jackson used in the attack, including the shotgun used to shoot the Judge, which she bought at a San Francisco pawn shop two days before the incident. She was also found to have been corresponding with one of the inmates involved.
Davis was charged with "aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder in the death of Judge Harold Haley", and a warrant was issued for her arrest. No one could find her, and four days after the warrant was issued, the FBI director J. Edgar Hoover listed Davis on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List.
So Davis became a fugitive and fled from California, and according to her autobiography, during this time she hid in friends' homes and moved at night. On October 13, 1970, FBI agents found her in New York City, and President Richard M. Nixon congratulated the FBI on its "capture of the dangerous terrorist Angela Davis."
While being held in the Women's Detention Center, Davis was initially separated from other prisoners, and for a time was held in solitary confinement.
Across the nation, thousands of people began organizing a movement to gain her release. In New York City, black writers formed a committee called the Black People in Defense of Angela Davis, and by February of 1971 more than 200 local committees in the United States, and 67 in foreign countries, worked to free Davis from prison. John Lennon and Yoko Ono contributed to this campaign with the song "Angela”. In 1972, after a 16-month incarceration, the state allowed her release on bail from county jail. On February 23, 1972, her $100,000 bail was paid by Rodger McAfee, who was a 33-year-old white alfalfa farmer from Fresno, California. And the United Presbyterian Church paid some of her legal defense expenses. The trial was moved to Santa Clara County, and after 13 hours of deliberations, the all-white jury returned a verdict of not guilty.
[I had never heard of this before - it was before my lifetime - but I can definitely see now why Angela Davis is such a polarizing figure]
Davis was a celebrity in Communist Cuba - she spoke at a rally there and the crowd was so enthusiastic she could barely speak over the cheering.
On May 1, 1979, she was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize from the Soviet Union. She visited Moscow later that month to accept the prize, where she praised "the glorious name" of Lenin and the "great October Revolution".
She also visited the Berlin Wall, where...