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The Schlesinger Library of the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University Acquires the Angela Y. Davis Papers

Angela Y. Davis is one of the foremost figures in the struggle for human rights and against racial discrimination in the United States, and a foundational thinker in African American feminism.

Author By Radcliffe Communications Published 02.13.2018 Share this page on Facebook Share this page on Twitter Share this page on LinkedIn Copy Link

For Immediate Release

Contact: Jane F. Huber,

CAMBRIDGE, MA—The Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study today announced its acquisition of the papers of prominent political activist and pioneering feminist thinker Angela Y. Davis. The resources of Harvard’s Hutchins Center for African & African American Research were crucial to securing this landmark acquisition.

“We are honored that Professor Angela Y. Davis chose the Schlesinger Library to be the permanent repository for a remarkable collection documenting a remarkable life,” said Jane Kamensky, the Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation Director of the Schlesinger Library. “The Angela Y. Davis Papers capture the many facets of her impact on the history of the United States, and will enable researchers to recover new histories of topics ranging from Black liberation and Black feminism, to Frankfurt school social theory, to the rise and fall of the Communist Party in America, to the growth of mass incarceration and the prison abolition movement.”

Widely regarded as the finest archival collection for research on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library has received more than 150 cartons of unique and rare material from Davis, including correspondence, photographs, unpublished speeches, teaching materials, organizational records, and audio from the radio show “Angela Speaks.” Davis’s incarceration, trial, and the global “Free Angela” campaign are especially well documented by materials that include personal writings, transcripts, letters received in prison, and banners used in “Free Angela” marches around the world.

“My papers reflect 50 years of involvement in activist and scholarly collaborations seeking to expand the reach of justice in the world,” said Davis. “I am very happy that at the Schlesinger Library they will join those of June Jordan, Patricia Williams, Pat Parker, and so many other women who have been advocates of social transformation.”

Angela Y. Davis is one of the foremost figures in the struggle for human rights and against racial discrimination in the United States, and a foundational thinker in African American feminism. Her long-standing commitment to prisoners’ rights dates to her involvement in the campaign to free three California inmates known as the Soledad Brothers, who were accused of killing a prison guard during a riot at the Soledad Prison in California’s central valley. Davis, just 26 years old, emerged as a leader of the Soledad Brothers Defense Committee, which galvanized the American left, including such disparate figures as James Baldwin, Jane Fonda, Jessica Mitford, and Jean Genet. Her activism on the Soledad Brothers’ behalf led to her own arrest and imprisonment. In 1970, she was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List on false charges, and was the subject of an intense police search that drove her underground and culminated in one of the most famous trials in recent U.S. history. During her 16-month incarceration, a massive international “Free Angela” campaign was organized, leading to her acquittal in 1972.

“Angela Y. Davis has played a major role in American political and philosophical thought for the last half century. I remember being inspired to take a philosophy class at Yale when I learned that her mentor, Herbert Marcuse, had called her his most brilliant student,” said Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and director of Harvard’s Hutchins Center. “Her consistent concern to ameliorate the conditions of the most unfortunate among us has inspired generations of students to commit their lives to service and scholarship. And her early calls for drastic prison reform have proven to be prophetic. Angela Davis’s archive will be studied for generations, and it is altogether fitting that the premier library on the history of women in America should house it.”

Schlesinger archivists have begun processing the collection, to which Davis will continue to add. The Angela Y. Davis Papers will be available for research by 2020.

“The acquisition of Angela Davis’s papers, documenting pivotal freedom struggles in the United States, Cuba, and the Middle East, makes the Schlesinger Library even more vital for all those seeking a deeper understanding of the history of oppression and resistance on a global scale,” noted Elizabeth Hinton, an assistant professor of history and African and African American studies at Harvard. Hinton will curate a public exhibition of key materials from the collection, which will coincide with a major conference on race, gender, and the carceral state to be held at the Radcliffe Institute in fall 2019. 

“Angela Y. Davis has lived her life lending her voice to those who could not speak for themselves,” noted Kenvi Phillips, curator for race and ethnicity at the Schlesinger Library. “Her decision to preserve her papers with the Library ensures that she will perpetually speak against inherently unequal power structures. We are thrilled to be part of the process of carrying the voice for the voiceless to future generations.”

About Angela Y. Davis

Davis’s political activism began in childhood in Birmingham, Alabama, and continued through her high school years in New York. As an undergraduate at Brandeis University, she began studying with the philosopher and social theorist Herbert Marcuse, who also supervised her graduate work at the University of California, San Diego. A cosmopolitan intellectual, Davis studied at the Sorbonne, Goethe University Frankfurt, as well as Humboldt University in East Berlin. In 1969, at the very beginning of her teaching career, she came to national attention when she was removed from her assistant professorship in the philosophy department at UCLA as a result of her social activism and her membership in the Communist Party USA.

Davis continued her career as a thinker and educator in the University of California system. She is the author of many books, including Angela Davis: An Autobiography (1974), a key text of the Black radical tradition; and Women, Race, and Class (1983), a pioneering work in intersectional and Marxist feminisms. The collection acquired by the Schlesinger includes early drafts of these works edited by Davis’s longtime friend Toni Morrison. Davis’s recent scholarship has included books on Black feminism and the blues tradition, a new edition of the Narrative of Frederick Douglass, and essay collections on freedom struggles from Ferguson to Cuba to Palestine. Now a professor emerita in the departments of history of consciousness and feminist studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Davis continues to lecture nationally and globally as an advocate of prison abolition and racial justice.

About the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute

The Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study documents the lives of women of the past and present for the future and furthers the Radcliffe Institute’s commitment to the study of women, gender, and society. With the finest collection of resources for research on the history of women in America, the Library’s holdings are especially strong in women’s rights and feminism, health and sexuality, work and family life, culinary history and etiquette, and education and the professions.

About the Hutchins Center

The Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University supports multidisciplinary research on the history and culture of people of African descent and provides a forum for collaboration and the ongoing exchange of ideas. As the preeminent research center in the field, it seeks to stimulate scholarly engagement in African and African American studies both at Harvard and beyond, and to increase public awareness and understanding of this vital field of study through both established and emerging channels of inquiry in the humanities and the social sciences.

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