In 1970, at the height of violent conflict between the U.S. government and oppressed communities across the country—mostly poor, mostly people of colour—the FBI arrested Angela Davis on false charges of attempted murder. A student of Herbert Marcuse, Davis was an assistant professor of philosophy at UCLA who’d been wrongly fired for her political views. Black, brilliant, articulate, Marxist, a member of the Communist Party and an ally of the Black Panthers, Angela Davis frightened the state. They put her in jail in advance of trial and denied bail. She was 26 years old. (Davis tells the story of that time and her ordeal in her 1974 book, An Autobiography.)
The fundamental assertion that prison makes is the isolation of the prisoner, sequestered in a hidden world and deprived of rights. Whether or not a prisoner is remembered or eventually freed, the state constructs an inhumane drama of inside and outside, dividing and damaging the communities that naturally exist among people. During the year and a half that she was incarcerated, Davis and a friend on “the outside” made a shared realm of freedom and agency by working together, in the jail, co-authoring and co-editing a book of resistance writing by people both inside and outside of prison, If They Come In the Morning. Undoing the state’s preferred drama of isolation and powerlessness, Davis and Bettina Aptheker—a prisoner and a free person, a black woman and a white woman, both Communists and lifelong activists—performed the power of their shared politics where the state could not destroy it—in the actions of reading and writing together. Their book reached millions of readers around the world, circulating in a half-dozen languages. Bettina Aptheker recalls the work they did together.
8 August, 2022