I first saw a radical black activist Angela Davis in 1975 when she spoke on the campus of Drake University. Drake, at the time, was a decidedly unwoke school with a student body that was less than 10% black. But back then, there were just a few “unenlightened” students and professors who picketed the site where Davis was speaking. We were far more polite back then — both right and left — and Davis was allowed to speak before a crowd I judged more curious than supportive.
Davis developed a reputation in the 1970s after getting fired from her teaching post at UCLA for being a Communist. After a judge ruled that the Board of Regents couldn’t fire someone just for being a Communist, Davis resumed her teaching duties. She was fired again after claiming the clearing of the “People’s Park” in Berkeley, a police action that resulted in one fatality and dozens of injuries, was “murder” by the Board.
We hear this kind of nonsense every day from black activists. But in the early 1970s, it was shocking.
Davis was then arrested and tried on murder charges when she bought several guns that ended up in the hands of a radical who took over a courtroom where his brother was on trial with two other defendants for killing a prison guard. The group took several people, including the judge, hostage. When the situation ended with the deaths of the three defendants and the judge, Davis was charged with being an accessory.
All of this happened in the context of early 1970s politics. Davis went on the lam and became the FBI’s Public Enemy #1 until she was caught hiding out in New York City.
Her trial was a circus, of course. For example, despite the judge being executed with a shotgun blast to the head, the coroner found that another shot, probably from police, who had returned fire after one of the prisoners started shooting, may have been the cause of the judge’s death as well.
Davis was acquitted and promptly went on a speaking tour that included Cuba, the Soviet Union, and East Germany. When the famous Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn criticized her for not speaking up about political prisoners in Russia and other Communist countries, she replied, “They deserve what they get. Let them remain in prison.”
I’ve gone to great lengths to explain why it’s so shocking that Davis recently found out that she is descended from a prominent white passenger on the Mayflower — the ship that carried the Puritan dissidents to the shores of Massachusetts in 1620.
The self-avowed Marxist feminist and former black power activist in the 1970s appeared as a guest on the PBS series “Finding Your Roots” Tuesday. During her interview, host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. revealed that she is a descendant of one of the original passengers on the Mayflower, William Brewster.
Gates shared a clip of the segment on Twitter. “Any idea what you’re looking at?” he asks. “That is a list of the passengers on the Mayflower.”
Davis is in complete astonishment. “No, I can’t believe this,” she says, laughing and throwing her hands up. “No, my ancestors did not come here on the Mayflower,” she laughs again.
“Your ancestors came here on the Mayflower,” Gates repeats. “You are descended from one of the 101 people who sailed on the Mayflower.”
“Do you know what you’re looking at? That is a list of the passengers on the Mayflower.”
Our researchers discovered #AngelaDavis’s ancestors traveled to the US on the Mayflower and here is her reaction. #FindingYourRoots pic.twitter.com/G2HhA9BSrT
— Henry Louis Gates Jr (@HenryLouisGates) February 22, 2023
According to the show Finding Your Roots, Davis’s convoluted and complicated family genealogy included being descended from William Brewster, a prominent member of the Puritans who signed the Mayflower Compact.
According to the episode, Davis’s father, Frank Davis, was legally the son of Mollie Spencer and Edward Davis. But Edward Davis was not his biological father; Spencer and Davis separated before he was born. Instead, Frank Davis was the son of Mollie Spencer and another white man named Murphy Jones. Experts were able to map Davis’s family line through Jones all the way back to William Brewster, an original signer of the Mayflower Compact and a leader of the Plymouth Colony.
Davis also discovered she was descended from a white Alabama lawyer and state legislator named John Austin Darden. Through Darden, she is the descendant of a man named Stephen Darden. Stephen was a drummer who served in the Revolutionary War. He then moved to Georgia, where he owned at least six slaves.
“Collective guilt,” anyone?
“I always imagined my ancestors as the people who were enslaved,” Davis said. “My mind and my heart are swirling with all of these contradictory emotions.”
Would Angela Davis be eligible for reparations? Should she be eligible?
The truth is, there are millions of Angela Davises in America, born of the despicable and obscene practice of Southern plantation owners and their guests being “given the run of the slave quarters,” where they raped black women and kept their offspring, thus enriching themselves through their crimes. There is no “pure” all-black blood in American blacks. And trying to determine who gets what and how much is a despicable effort and is far more about “politics” than “justice.”
Angela Davis will probably “process” this new information for about ten minutes and then return to her racist rants and Marxist diatribes. But she knows. And despite ignoring her past, she will be given a pass by her compatriots and those who support them because she’s far too valuable as a radical icon to dismiss.