Civil rights activist Angela Davis has courted controversy all her life including a stint on the FBIs 10 Most Wanted list but there was a definite sense of admiration when she spoke Wednesday at Charlottes Booth Playhouse.
The intent of Davis lecture, organized by the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts & Culture, was to give a select group of Mecklenburg County middle and high school students a chance to hear about the impact activists can have on the world when they get organized.
But a few dozen adults managed to slip in, too, and for them it was a chance to spend 60 minutes with a hero of the civil rights movement, one who wasnt afraid to have ties in the 1960s to the Black Panthers or the Communist Party.
Gloria Kelley of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Board of Trustees was among the first to show up.
I was raised in that era, and it was a time when Angela Davis would stand up for things when no one else would, said Kelley.
To hear her brings back the idea of true pride in a race of people, and that sense of family that we seem to have lost now within black neighborhoods.
Davis, who is Distinguished Professor Emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz, showed no signs Wednesday that the years have mellowed her views.
She told the crowd that everyone should be a feminist. She wants the nation to change its approach to justice, which she said was focused on vengeance for crimes. And she called for prisons to be abolished as the chief form of punishment.
She rocked the boat
Davis has herself been a prisoner. She was held in connection with a high-profile courtroom incident in 1970, when a judge was murdered in Marin County, Calif. She was not there at the time, but the guns used were registered in her name, she said.
Davis was eventually acquitted of involvement, after 16 months in jail.
Among the more humorous points of her lecture was a recollection of the moment she learned of being on the FBIs Most Wanted list.
I was in Florida, watching an episode of The F.B.I. (TV show) with (actor) Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and he comes up with this big poster of me, she recalled, laughing. And he describes me as armed and dangerous and not to attempt to capture me if you see me. Contact local law enforcement.
Hattie Hedgepeth, 72, was among those who came to hear the lecture. She noted there was a time Davis was not held in high esteem by much of the nation.
She was a radical who rocked the boat and that went against the grain of civilized America, Hedgepeth said, as she surveyed the crowd.
Thats what makes this (lecture) so amazing. We have children in the South who have come here to see her speak. Its something I never in my mind imagined. What a huge turnaround for this country.
Sitting beside her was Dee Jones, 60, a retired domestic violence advocate. For her, Davis brought back a flood of memories, including names of other activists like H. Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael.
I hope these children learn that they can make a better world, Jones said, and I hope they go home and teach their parents.
Then with a grin, she raised one fist and smiled.