Accepted Paper:

Beyond "revolutionary glamour": toward a critical essay on Angela Davis as cause célèbre of American radicalism  


Brenda Tindal (Emory University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the socio-political activism of Angela Davis and the way in which she has been remembered /appropriated within the realm of US popular culture.

Paper long abstract:

Angela Davis is perhaps one of the most influential scholar-activists of the 20th century. Yet, in the contemporary moment, through historical reductionism, anarchronism and the romanticizing of the Black Power era and its couture, Davis' afro—the hairstyle she wore during the 1970's—has yielded greater attention than the socio-political episodes that launched her into radical celebrity. Rather than simply focusing on the revolutionary glamour inspired by her militant posture and infectious afro coif, this study explores the social and political processes through which Davis emerges as a cause célèbre of American Radicalism. As such, this paper explores the visual images and commentary surrounding three major episodes: (1) Davis' 1969 termination from the University of California at Los Angeles, (2) the declaration of Davis as among the FBI's 10 most wanted fugitives, and (3) her incarceration and trial from 1970 to 1972. I look specifically at the way these events are narrated and visualized in mainstream, Black Power, and Communists Party publications. In this regard, I attempt to (a) explore the orientation of Davis' socio-political activism, namely her advocacy of Black Power and Communism and their investment in responding to the plight of marginal communities, particularly those located in urban enclaves, and (b) re-contextualize the "Afro" by examining how it has been appropriated within contemporary popular culture as an emblem of ghetto rebellion and black counter-culture, with Davis as the arbiter of this form of black revolutionary aesthetic.

Panel W115
Urban marginalization and popular culture