LYNNWOOD — Student Shaneisha Miller came prepared to ask Angela Davis a serious question about societal change.
“I want to know how we can continue to make progress against racism and toward social justice,” the young Lynnwood woman said as she waited for the lecture to begin.
A retired university professor, Davis, 68, is perhaps best known for her political and civil rights activism, which was considered radical in the late 1960s and early ’70s. She spoke at Edmonds Community College on Thursday as part of the school’s celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“I have two questions,” Miller told the famed speaker during the question-and-answer period. “And the second one is, well, today’s my 18th birthday and I wonder, would you autograph my journal?”
Davis’ visit to the college was a chance to meet a celebrity of history and to hear her words of encouragement.
She reminded the standing-room-only audience that it’s been 150 years since the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, 58 years since the black housemaids of Montgomery, Ala., organized a bus boycott, 45 years since King was assassinated and 13 years since the establishment of a federal holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader.
“It’s time to reflect on black history in America and the struggle for freedom,” Davis said. “This year, the second inauguration of Barack Obama lands on Martin Luther King Day. We have a president who identifies with the struggles of Dr. King. This fact tells us that we have come a long way since Jim Crow racism.”
Still, the country has a long way to go to make sure that all people are treated equally, said Davis, who lives in Oakland, Calif. As an author and educator, Davis said she has worked to bring attention to economic, racial and gender injustices.
Davis grew up in Birmingham, Ala., the daughter of parents who belonged to the NAACP when the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People “was a radical group,” Davis said.
In graduate school in California, Davis was affiliated with the Black Panthers and the Communist Party. Then-Gov. Ronald Reagan tried but failed to bar her from teaching in California state colleges. In 1970, she was on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list for her alleged involvement in a violent attempt to free some inmates of the Soledad Prison.She denied the charges but was held in jail for 18 months until her trial, when she was acquitted.
Davis said the country’s criminal justice system, its growing number of prisons and the great numbers of incarcerated young black and Latino men continue to be a concern for her.
“We are still living with the ghosts of slavery. And our society is saturated with violence. The United States represents only 5 percent of the world’s population, but we have 25 percent of all the people in the world who are imprisoned,” Davis said. “We need to think about the relationships between state violence, gang violence and domestic violence and face our complicated problems.”
Those problems won’t be solved overnight and it will take generations of struggle to make a difference, she said.
“The legacy of Martin Luther King is that we work toward the future, the dream. We need to combine patience with urgency as we move ahead to make revolutionary changes,” Davis said. “We need to imagine a radical future where prisons are abolished and police have no need for guns. Our solution to violence will be to build vibrant communities where people are not isolated.”
After the lecture, Davis called Shaneisha Miller forward and autographed the student’s journal.
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the outcome of the charges against Angela Davis. The story is now correct.