Freedom is a term that is often used but not always understood. The costs associated with it are often high and some of us have paid and will pay the ultimate price to obtain it. Here in the United States, we like to think that we are free but the truth of the matter remains in question. Perhaps we are still in a state of denial of about freedom’s true meaning and its role in the American way of life. Angela Davis is one of the brightest voices to emerge from the Civil Rights Movement and has established herself a political activist, an author and professor whose many speeches and writings are some of the best society has ever seen. While the book is not an autobiography, this is clearly Davis’ show and a collection of selected speeches in which she discusses topics that she rightly refers to as difficult dialogues. But her ability to not only discuss these topics but provoke thought in the reader, is what makes this book so special. And I can state with full conviction that I wished I had discovered this gem much earlier in life.
If you are contemplating reading this book, I believe that you already know who Davis is or have heard her name. If you seek intelligent discussion regarding subjects that America still struggles with, then this is a book for you. But beware, Davis is not here to make anyone feel comfortable. In fact, her goal is open your eyes and get you to re-examine what you thought you knew about race, justice and social progress. At no point does she shy away from the topics and moves full speed ahead as she discusses the prison industrial complex, poverty, LGBT rights, the election of Barack Obama and the dark history of segregation under the banner of Jim Crow. She is a brilliant author who never attempts to lecture the reader but presents her points in a manner that is conducive to dialogue that actually provokes deep thought and constructive criticism.
I had hoped that she would have mentioned more about George Jackson (1941-1971), especially during the discussion on the prison system and the animal known as mass incarceration. By their own words, she and Jackson were very close, up until the time of his death while incarcerated at San Quentin. Looking back, I can see why she does not go into extensive detail for that would have required a separate book. In fact, their story was the focus of her trial for conspiracy commit murder surrounding the death of Judge Harold Haley, taken prisoner by Jackson’s younger brother Jonathan in an effort to free the Soledad Brothers, to which George belonged. Both were shot and killed during a shootout with law enforcement. Davis’ trial and acquittal are covered brilliantly in The Morning Breaks: The Trial of Angela Davis by Bettina Aptheker. The story of Jackson and Davis takes center stage therein as she fights for her life in a case that could have sent her to death row.
Towards the end of the book, there is a speech she gives about the election of Barack Obama. His election as the 44th President of the United States was a monumental moment for America but she rightfully points out that the job of improving race relations and civil rights did not belong to him alone. And in spite of the belief that we live in a post-racial society, common wisdom dictates otherwise and we all share a responsibility in the continuing advancement of civil rights. I truly believe that anyone who believes in equality, the right of everyone to live their lives free and the advancement of society will find this book relevant not only to the past but even today as mass incarceration continues and America finds itself politically and socially divided. However, I have hope for the future and if we return to books such as these, we can get back on track and work towards improving life for all Americans. And as we do so, we can continue to examine the true meaning of freedom.