Dr. Angela Davis speaks to full house during MLK Day event

Dr. Angela Davis spoke to a standing-room only crowd in the UTC Fine Arts Center’s Roland Hayes Concert Hall on Jan. 24.
Dr. Felicia McGhee, left, and Dr. Angela Davis at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga MLK Day 2023 event on Tuesday, Jan. 24, at the Roland Hayes Concert Hall. (UTC Photo)

Prominent educator, author and lecturer Dr. Angela Davis highlighted the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga MLK Day 2023 festivities on Tuesday, Jan. 24, speaking to a standing-room only crowd.

The discussion, titled “A Call for Civility,” took place at 12:30 p.m. in the UTC Fine Arts Center’s Roland Hayes Concert Hall. It was moderated by Dr. Felicia McGhee, associate professor and head of the UTC Department of Communication.

This was the 10th year for UTC’s MLK Day keynote speaker series and the first held in person since 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns.
Dr. Davis shared with the standing-room only crowd her experiences as a Black woman growing up in some of the hardest times for our country. The renown political rights activist emphasized the importance of questioning everything and imagining new ways of being as a society.

“It’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey,” she said, “and the journey is infinite.”

When asked by Dr. McGhee how she feels when she hears the word “woke,” Dr. Davis said, “It’s great to wake up, isn’t it? But we should always be aware that no change that really makes a difference is going to be without its detractors, is going to be without those who want to conserve the old way of doing things.”

Dr. Davis was born Jan. 26, 1944. Influenced by her segregated upbringing in Birmingham, Ala., she joined the Black Panthers and an all-Black branch of the Communist Party as a young woman.

The 25-year-old Davis, then acting assistant professor of philosophy, taught her first class at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) on Oct. 6, 1969. Because she was a member of the Communist Party, the University of California Board of Regents, at the urging of then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, fired her in 1970 for her radical politics.

Shortly after being dismissed from UCLA, Dr. Davis was charged with aiding the botched escape attempt of imprisoned Black radical George Jackson, and served roughly 18 months in jail before her acquittal in 1972. After spending time traveling and lecturing, she returned to the classroom as a professor.

Her teaching career has included stints at San Francisco State University; Mills College in California; University of California, Berkeley; UCLA; Vassar College and Syracuse University, both in New York; the Claremont Colleges in California; and Stanford University.

Dr. Davis, who has authored 10 books and numerous articles and essays, is the Distinguished Professor Emerita of History of Consciousness–an interdisciplinary doctoral program–and of Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. During the last 25 years, she has lectured in all 50 states in the U.S., Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and the former Soviet Union.

In recent years, a theme of Dr. Davis’ work has been the range of social problems associated with incarceration and the generalized criminalization of communities most affected by poverty and racial discrimination. She is a founding member of Critical Resistance, a national organization dedicated to dismantling the prison industrial complex.

Since 2013, UTC has held a special MLK event on a day separate from the federal holiday, which is marked every year on the third Monday in January.

Dr. Davis said she and other activists have never given up on the fight for Black liberation.

“We never gave up,” she said. “Hundreds of years and Black people still never gave up, then managed to pass down that impulse to fight for freedom from one generation to the next.”