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Free Angela! Film Chronicles Activist’s Journey

Barrington Salmon | 4/10/2013, 9 p.m.
In 1969, Angela Davis was every white man's worst nightmare: Educated, possessor of a formidable intellect, black, assertive, an activist, ...
Angela Davis

So concerned was FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover about the Panthers, he described them as "the single greatest threat to the internal security of the United States." Hoover was determined to prevent the formation of a cohesive Black movement in the United States and used murder, coercion, extortion, disinformation and other tactics to undermine and destroy black leaders who exhibited leadership, organizational skills and the ability to communicate well. The FBI and police from Oakland, Chicago and elsewhere began targeting and assassinating members of the Panther organization.

The documentary reminds viewers of the raw anger, deep distrust and animus between the black community and police. Footage of an hours-long shootout between police and the Black Panthers illustrates the full-pitched gun battles that often ensued between law enforcement and the organization.

"It was as if we were living in a state of war, a state of siege," said Davis. "We had to do all we could to usher in the Revolution. There was a conspiracy to kill every Black Panther in America and all black people."

Quenesha McNair, 30, was left visibly moved by the film.

"I feel grateful for this information," she said. "My generation knows the criticism directed at her approach to politics but not the level of determination to eradicate her. I'm surprised I'm just learning about her in the film. This wasn't in the textbooks. I never knew how raw it was. The raid on the Black Panther headquarters was like genocide. I never, ever thought this could happen."

Davis was also on the frontline as a spokesperson for the Soledad Brothers, three men in California's Soledad Prison accused of killing a guard and persecuted for their political beliefs. George Jackson, John Clutchette and Fleeta Drumgo were each incarcerated for petty property crimes, we're told, and jailed for years because of their attempts to bring about change in the prison system.

"I saw him at a hearing and I was drawn by the tenderness I didn't expect to see in a prisoner," said Davis of the man she loved, George Jackson. "He was a beautiful, powerful, passionate writer."

Following the botched kidnapping and hostage deaths, the white establishment called Jonathan and his accomplices thugs, hoodlums and criminals. However, he was seen as a hero by many in the black community. At his funeral, thousands of mourners crowded the streets around the church, standing solemnly with fists raised in the Black Power salute as the coffin was carried into and out of the church.

As word about the shootout spread, Davis knew the feds would try to apprehend her.

"It was clear that this was not the time to make myself available for arrest," she said soberly.

With a fugitive's warrant of $100,000 on her head, Davis went underground, moving around for two months through Las Vegas and Miami, ending up in New York with local law enforcement and the FBI not far behind. As she evaded them, police descended on black communities around the country accosting black women with big afros and gaps between their front teeth. The FBI had agents conducting surveillance on anyone who knew Davis, and also began to wrangle information from her friends, family and associates.