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Davis speaks at GSU
Activist speaks on relevance of King's message
012711 ANGELA DAVIS 01 web
After an introduction by Georgia Southern University President Brooks Keel, author and lecturer Angela Davis speaks to a packed house at the Performing Arts Center Thursday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

On the heels of a holiday for America's most renowned civil rights icon, Georgia Southern University welcomed a political activist who made waves of her own in the 1960s and 70s.

Angela Davis - author, scholar and polarizing political figure - spoke to an audience of students, faculty and community members Thursday at a celebration in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the university's Performing Arts Center (PAC).

"Thank you very much for inviting me to participate in your celebration of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King [Jr.]," said Davis to a crowd of onlookers. "As someone who was alive and active during the time Martin Luther King Jr. was working, thinking and acting for justice, I find it almost impossible to believe four decades have passed since his assassination in 1968."

"As I think back on that period, now referred to as the Civil Rights movement, what I find amazing is the words Dr. King spoke then, are as relevant today, if not more relevant today, than they were four decades ago," she said.

Many of the iconic words alluded to by Davis were heard moments before she ever took the PAC stage. Prior to Georgia Southern President Dr. Brooks Keel introducing the night's primary draw, a screen was lowered for a slideshow honoring the Civil Rights movement accompanied by Martin Luther Kings Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech."

A crowd numbering in the hundreds, filling both levels of the PAC auditorium, applauded as King's immortal words echoed throughout the building: "Free at last; Free at last; thank god almighty we are free at last."

Though the night was to honor King and the immeasurable impact his words and ideas have had on American culture both during and after his life, the mass of people crowded into the auditorium had come for just one reason: to hear the thoughts of Davis, who has etched her own unique place in the country's history.

"Now that we have a black man in the White House, some people feel it is not necessary to reflect on black history; after all, we have reached Dr. King's mountain top," said Davis. "I should say: one of the things Dr. King never did was to say what he saw when he reached the mountain top. He did not say he saw a black man in the White House. Even though a black man is in the White House, it does not annul the fact that there are a million black men in the ‘Big House.'"

Davis, who now spends her time teaching feminist studies and history of consciousness classes at the University of California Santa Cruz, while continuing to promote women's rights and racial justice, is most well known for her role with the Communist and Black Panther parties in the 1970s and 80s and a stint on the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted Fugitives" list.

A warrant was issued for Davis' arrest in 1970, when Jonathan Jackson killed a judge and wounded two in an attempt to have several prisoners released, including his brother George Jackson, at the Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael, California.

Firearms used in the attack were purchased by Davis, including the shotgun used to kill Superior Court Judge Harold Haley. The warrant charged Davis as an accomplice to conspiracy, kidnapping, and homicide.

After evading police for more than two months, Davis was arrested in New York City and tried - a jury rendered a not guilty verdict in 1972.

Her time since, including Thursday's speech at GSU, has been spent speaking out against social injustice.

In the lecture, Davis discussed an array of issues she feels King would stand against if he were alive today.

She stated that "many Americans remember Dr. King the great orator, but not Dr. King the disturber of the unjust peace. They applaud the Dr. King who opposed violence, but not the Dr. King who called for massive non-violent demonstrations to end war and poverty."

"I don't want to convey the impression that we have been at a historical standstill. I want us to recognize and appreciate the gains we have made," she said. "But, at the same time, we can recognize and appreciate how far we still have to go before we can truly celebrate the decline of injustice, inequality and war."

Davis spoke on issues ranging from the war in Afghanistan and immigrant rights, to corporate privatization of food distribution, education and imprisonment.

She also expressed a hope for the dismantling of America's military and economic bolstering of its education system.

Davis called for individuals to be more socially conscious and responsible, arguing people have become "more efficient at ignoring poverty."

Davis wrapped up the lecture by expressing her belief that "many civil rights issues remain pertinent issues today," and encouraged individuals to be, like King, "disturbers of the unjust peace."

"Justice is indivisible," she said. "Let me end by emphasizing the importance of re-making the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King [Jr.]. How can we all become disturbers of the peace who are dedicated to crafting a future with world-changing, socially-transformative and trans-national activism?"

The Davis appearance was co-sponsored by the Office of the Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management and the Multicultural Student Center.


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