Adventures in Feministory: Free Angela!


The groundswell of support that Angela Davis received after her wrongful imprisonment in 1970 (based on trumped up murder charges in connection with the Black Panthers' attempt to free three black prisoners from a correctional facility in Soledad, California) was enough to get her acquitted 18 months later by an all-white jury. The involvement of her close friend Bettina Aptheker in particular is an awesome story of sisterhood and solidarity, and is the focus of this week's Adventures in Feministory.

Davis and Aptheker met when they were both teenagers and members of the Brooklyn chapter of Advance, a socialist youth group. A decade later, after Angela's arrest, Bettina went against many in the Communist Party (of which both women were members) to advocate for her release. Aptheker was part of the National United Committee to Free Angela Davis (NUCFAD), which helped to bring international attention to Davis' case.  The two women worked closely together to tailor a defense strategy, and they even collaborated on projects while Angela was still in prison, including the co-edited volume If They Come in the Morning: Voices of Resistance (the title was borrowed from an open letter written by James Baldwin, another Davis supporter.) 

Today, both women are tenured professors at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  Davis is renowned for her work in the field of prison reform and abolition, and Aptheker teaches a hugely popular intro to feminism course- so popular, in fact, that it has been recorded and sold on DVD (download her 6-minute definition of feminism- it's incredible.)  I think these women serve as an example that standing up for a cause is great, but standing up for a friend is even greater (and can often turn into a cause itself.)  Cheesiness alert!  But serioulsly, these ladies rock.

by Danny Fish
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3 Comments Have Been Posted

Bettina & Angela

I had the great pleasure to manage the UCSC feminist studies library under Angela Davis' direction 2003-2005. The special collection is made largely of Bettina Aptheker's personal library (I also took a third world feminism class taught by Bettina in 2005). The time I spent working with and for these women had an extremely positive impact on my identity as a feminist. I doubt I would have blossomed as confidently, if at all, without their examples and guidance. Thanks for the reminder.

Also, should you ever get the chance:
<B>Attend UC Santa Cruz!</B>
These women remain easily accessible to their students.

Just have to say...

Taking Aptheker's Intro to Feminism course as a freshman at UCSC actually convinced me that I wasn't a feminist. It took me a couple years to realize that Aptheker was literally a textbook second-waver and had a very different relationship with gender than I did. (For instance, her statements about men preferring stupid women, especially as marriage partners, confounded me.) I wish Aptheker had been more aware of all the advancements feminism has made since the 70s, or at least mentioned it in the course. But maybe she's changed it up since 1998.
And in any case, I have to remind myself that women who came of age 50 years ago had a lot more to overcome than I can imagine. So maybe my parents' egalitarian marriage and my relationships with pro-smart men would be hard for Aptheker to imagine.
I have to appreciate what she accomplished with her conviction because it probably made my life better, but that doesn't mean we're in agreement. Hm, I guess Bettina Aptheker really did introduce me to feminism.

I love these women too!

As a former Banana Slug, I cannot adequately express the influence that Bettina Aptheker had over my personal development and feminist consciousness. I took several courses with her (including a course on Black Women’s History that extensively covered the details of Angela Davis’ infamous trial), and I even had the amazing opportunity to serve as a Teaching Assistant for her esteemed “Introduction to Feminisms” course.

Currently, I am a doctoral student in a major public university on the other side of the country. As I continue my journey with feminist pedagogy and practice, I only hope that I can provide my students with a fraction of the wisdom, energy, and support that Bettina continues to bestow on all of her students.

In response to the charges leveled at her adherence to “second wave” principles (God forbid feminism(s) identify social and political patterns of oppression through structuralist analyses, by the way!), it is absurd to assume that Bettina is not “fully aware of the advancements feminism has made since the 70s.”After all, Bettina has literally fought on the front lines to combat ALL forms of social oppression since her leadership in the Berkeley Free Speech Movement during the 60s. Any suggestion that she is unaware of the advancement of oppressed groups in our society— women, people of color, the queer community, people with disabilities, the poor, etc.— is extremely misguided. That said, I think that Bettina also importantly recognizes that injustice still persists, and that feminism(s) still has plenty of work to do to achieve liberty and equality for all members of our society.

Ultimately, I feel so lucky to have lived and worked in the feminist community at UC Santa Cruz at such a pivotal stage of my mental and political development—the legacies of feminists like Angela Davis, Bettina Aptheker, Gloria Anzaldua, Wendy Brown, and many, many others will inform feminism(s) for years to come.

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