From the Archives: The Black Student Union at UCSB on the Freedom of Angela Davis

text by digital-media

02 June, 2022

    Angela Davis is a woman known for her assumption of multiple positions. Perhaps she best fields the identity of renowned UC Professor of Philosophy– or stalwart communist leader – or scholar, champion of Black rights, among other honorifics. 

    By the late 1960s, she had garnered quite a following, particularly notable for both the completion of a doctorate at the University of Berlin as well as her leadership within the Communist party, including various second-wave feminist movements and the campaign against the Vietnam war. However, her ties with the communist party were sinewy and worn-thin; after accepting a job offer at UCLA, she was fired two times over for both inflammatory language and communist party ties. Her efforts to dominate the California school system with communist rhetoric were no less volatile after her job loss, however. Much of her continued work focused on abolition of prisons and the dissolution of the USSR. By 1970, guns belonging to Davis were used in an armed takeover of a courtroom in Marin, whereby she was thus charged for three capital felonies and held in jail for over a year. She was, by 1972, acquitted of all charges, but not before her general Communist modus operandi took hold at UCSB. Splicing in with Black Students’ takeover of UCSB’s North Hall, the audio of the Angela Davis rally (linked above) sparked an afro-communist movement in Isla Vista. The takeover, incited by twelve members of the Black Student Union, was an outcry for better treatment of Black students at UCSB, demanding implementation of a Black Studies Department and barricading themselves in the computer center at dawn. North Hall, at that period, had earned an eponymous title: Malcolm X Hall, perhaps implemented to elevate Black oratory and to forward the demands of the 12 student leaders pioneering the movement. 

Black Student Union leader and editor of El Gaucho during the 1969-70 academic year, Cyrus Keller speaks on behalf of the Black student experience at UCSB as well as his rationale for why Angela Davis deserved her freedom. This excerpt is audio footage, taken from the steps of North Hall in late 1969. It is, likewise, a segment from KCSB Archives’ newly digitized open reel collection, which I am hoping to highlight further on the blog in the near future. 

As a part of the newly instated Throwback Thursday series, Archives Coordinator Lekha Sapers will be blogging about KCSB’s collection of audio archives. For the remainder of the school year, you’ll get a chance to explore our audio collection, highlighting the stories of some of our most formidable alumni. 

Posted in Blog, From the archives