These four titles coexist when describing one woman: Angela Davis. In August of 1970, Jonathan Jackson entered a courtroom in Marion County, CA and armed James McClain and two other prisoners in an attempt to take hostages to exchange for the release of the Soledad Brothers, three black men (not related) accused of killing a guard during a riot at Soledad prison. Jackson had close ties to Angela Davis and was the brother of George Jackson (one of the Soledad Brothers), whom Davis had a close, personal relationship with. The standoff ended in the death of Jackson, Superior Court Judge Harold Haley, and two other inmates.
Shortly after, it was discovered that the guns used in the conflict were purchased and registered to Davis. The state of California indicted her on kidnapping, murder, and criminal conspiracy charges. Angela immediately went into hiding, convinced she would not receive a fair trial. She became the third woman to be put on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list for “Unlawful Interstate Flight.” She was later arrested in Oct. 1970 in NYC and extradited to California, where she was imprisoned for roughly 18 months until she was finally granted bail.
Davis played a critical role in her defense, insisting on delivering her opening arguments despite having an extensive defense team in her corner. The prosecution’s case was weak, and built on circumstantial evidence, insinuating that Davis’ relationship with George Jackson drove her to conspire to commit these crimes. They introduced her diary and letters Davis had written to Mr. Jackson as evidence, all which expressed deep admiration for Mr. Jackson. The prosecution argued that her emotions in wanting his release and her political activist ties motivated her to aid Jonathon Jackson with the guns used in the courtroom takeover.
Davis’ former roommate and colleague, Valerie Mitchell, testified that several weapons registered to Davis were kept in a rack in a closet of her apartment, which served as the headquarters for the Soledad Brothers Defense Committee and the Che Lumumba Club, an all-black communist party cell. Members of the Che Lumumba Club occasionally used the guns for target practice. Members of both organizations were in and out of the offices, including Jonathan Jackson. On August 1st, he had come to print some materials for the Soledad Brothers Defense Committee. After granting Jackson permission to use the printing equipment, and leaving him alone in the office, Mitchell did not check the gun rack until a week later, when she found the weapons missing.
Due to the lack of physical evidence in the case, and the defense’s ability to exploit the inconsistencies in the prosecution’s narrative, the all-white jury acquitted Angela Davis of all charges.
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Listen: Angela Davis: A Life of Activism
Featured photo by George Lewis from Wikipedia