Thursday, January 28, 1999

Angela Davis draws capacity crowd

Angela Davis draws capacity crowd
The Chicago Maroon
By Pamela Appea
Originally published Tuesday, January 20, 1998

Political activist and writer Angela Davis spoke yesterday to a crowd of nearly 2,000 people in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, as part of the University of Chicago’s Tenth Annual Dr. Martin Lutjer King Day celebration.

The event, organized and sponsored by The Coordinating Council for Minority Issues (CCMI), was free and open to all members of the University and greater Chicago. However, due to overcrowding, over 100 people were turned away.

“I’m delighted by the response, the support that people showed. Given the fact that we had over 2,000 people cramming themselves into Rockefeller Chapel shows that we picked the right speaker,” said Kathy Stell, deputy dean of Students in the University; assistant to the Provost; and chair of CCMI.

Davis’s speech focused on what she called “The Prison Industrial Complex” a modern phenomena which she believes exists in the United States.

According to Davis, the number of inmates in U.S. prisons and jails are increasing at an alarming rate. “Almost 2 million people are currently locked up in U.S. prisons and jails. They are, as Barbara Fletcher puts it, ‘the truly forgotten,’ she said.

Davis asserted that the majority of incarcerated individuals in the U.S. are black males, and the real root of crime is produced by “poverty and racism.” In addition to this, Davis pointed out that while the majority of inmates are male, the number of women being put “behind bars is increasing at an even greater rate than men.

Davis sees the growing reliance of imprisonment as the government’s solution to complex social problems, combined with corporate interests in the punishment industry.

“We often assume prison has nothing to do with us if we aren’t there,” said Davis. “But it has permeated our culture.”

Davis believes that the privatization of prisons benefits U.S. capitalist interests. “In some places, prisons contract labor well below minimum wage, ten cents to 44 cents per hour,” Davis alleges that some major companies such as IBM, Motorola, Microsoft, Honeywall, and Nordstrom are implicated in prison labor violations.

Davis said that Martin Luther King believed that individuals do have the power to realize change. While she said that many attempt to take a neutral position in socio-political matters, she believes that “adopting a manner of acquiescence” is not appropriate.

“Where are the wars against corporate crime, Where are the wars against police crime? Where are the wars against hate violence? Davis asked.

“The growth in prison [inmates] was what really hit me about Davis’ speech,” said Lawrence Pausback, a former Friendship House volunteer and staff member who attended The University of Chicago in the 1950s.

“Especially, the emphasis on the incarceration of women. I thought the percentage was smaller.”
Over the past few weeks, students and student leaders at the U of C have either applauded or decried the choice of Davis as a speaker for the commemoration of King.

Many U of C conservatives have expressed concern with the selection of Davis for the King Day Celebration.

“I believe that Martin Luther King stood for equal opportunities for al Americans, regardless of
race. But key to his vision was the believe that a color-blind America was to achieved through non-violent means. Angela Davis, whose Marxist views and association with such militant groups as the Black Panthers, in my opinion, does not properly represent Martin Luther King’s legacy of non-violence,” said John Roland, president of the University of Chicago Republicans, and a third-year in the College.

King Day organizers disagreed, however. “The idea of the Martin Luther King Day speaker is to have someone speak who has an interesting perspective on Dr. King. We are not having a contest to see who most resembles King,” said Stell.

The University of Chicago Republicans have established another event celebrating DR. King, which is scheduled for Wednesday, January 21. The event will feature conservative black radio talk show host Reginald Jones.

Many at the event, however, express their support in the choice of Davis as a key note speaker.
“King had a passion for justice. King and Davis had a different means of achieving that same end.

For that, Davis embodies the King spirit,” said Tiffany Rockette, vice president of the Organization of Black Students (OBS), and a third-year in the College.

Others felt that the event was organized by the College Republicans would provide another diverse viewpoint on King.

“I think it’s great that that College Republicans are celebrating Martin Luther King Day in their own way. Bringing in different points of view is what academic exchange is about. Their response is perfectly appropriate,” said Stell.

Some in attendance disagreed.
“The Republicans tried to divide us. Basically, the Republicans called King a Communist. Now, it’s strange that they are trying to promote his image. [Reginald Jones] speaks for no one but himself. He does not represent the black community,” said Albert Thompson, a Hyde Park resident.

The King Day celebration included performances from various other student and community organizations.

The celebration began with a traditional Native American dance entitled ’La Danza de los Concheros’ performed by Grupo Folklorico Internacional, a troupe which includes children and adults.

The Evangelistic Crusaders Church of God sang two songs as well. Soul Umoka, and Make a Joyful Noise (MAJ’N,) two University music groups, also sang two selections.

An afternoon reception with Davis was held from 3:00-5:00 p.m. at Ida Noyes Hall. Along with CCMI, eleven other student organizations sponsored the event, including OBS, Hispanic Association for Cultural Expression & Recognition, Jewish Students Union (JSU), Sexual Violence Prevention Resource Center (SVPRC) and SistaFriends.

Planning for the King day celebration has been ongoing since spring of last year. Davis was selected to be the keynote speaker in August of 1997 according to a representative of CCMI.
Past speakers for the U of C King celebration have included Dr. Joycelyn Elders, former U.S. Attorney Surgeon General, Bishop Arthur Frazier, and Clarence Page, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

Davis’ political activism began as a young woman in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1950s and 1960s. She traveled and lectured extensively throughout the U.S., several countries in Africa, Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Davis has long been an advocate for civil and human rights, especially the U.S. prison system. In the early 70s, Davis’ name was placed on FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List and she was later incarcerated for a period of sixteen months.

Along with the help of a “Free Angela Davis” campaign, she was released from prison. All charges against Davis were dropped in 1972.

Davis continues to be active with the fight for improving the U.S. penal system. She is a member of the Advisory Board for the Prison Activist Resource Center.

Davis is currently working on a comparative study of women’s imprisonment in the U.S., the Netherlands and Cuba.

Photo Caption: The choir of the Envangelistic Crusaders Church of God in Christ performed as part of Monday’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration

Photo Credit: Andrew Fish
Originally published January 28, 1999