Revisiting Angela Davis

Elizabeth Hinton arranges materials for the Angela Davis exhibit with (from left) Radcliffe arts program manager Meg Rotzel, gallery coordinator Joe Zane, and Pforzheimer fellow Jackie Wang. Photo by Stu RosnerElizabeth Hinton arranges materials for the Angela Davis exhibit with (from left) Radcliffe arts program manager Meg Rotzel, gallery coordinator Joe Zane, and Pforzheimer fellow Jackie Wang. Photo by Stu Rosner
Harvard Magazine
August 16, 2019
By Lydialyle Gibson

When news broke in early 2018 that Radcliffe's Schlesinger Library had acquired the papers of radical activist and academic Angela Davis, an icon since the 1970s, perhaps no one on Harvard’s campus was more thrilled than Elizabeth Hinton. “She’s one of the most important figures of the twentieth century, and her life story and political commitments intersect with pretty much every major social movement of the last 50 years—not just on a national scale, but a global scale,” explains the historian of mass incarceration, whose own work is deeply influenced by Davis’s ideas on black liberation, the “prison industrial complex” (a Davis coinage), racism in the criminal-justice system, and the consequences of incarceration for women and families.

This fall, Hinton is curating an exhibit and conference drawing on materials from those archives, which stretch from Davis’s childhood in Birmingham, Alabama, to the present and include more than 150 boxes of documents, photographs, pamphlets, letters, political buttons—and the famous FBI “Wanted” poster from the weeks in 1970 that Davis spent in hiding. It’s a collection of striking breadth, which historian Jane Kamensky, the Schlesinger’s Pforzheimer Foundation director, believes will help fill out the picture of a figure who is “known as an icon, but not as richly understood as a thinker.” Kenvi Phillips, curator for race and ethnicity, puts it another way: Angela Davis is “someone people absolutely love or absolutely hate but don’t necessarily know much about.” But “she came from somewhere, and she’s very much rooted in specific experiences and ideologies.”

Read the full article at the Harvard Magazine website.

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