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Angela Davis
If They Come In The Morning...
Orbach & Chambers, London, 1971
(price: 45p; 272 pages)

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The Professor
Angela: Portrait of a Revolutionary
Sphere, London, 1971
(price: 35p; 160 pages)

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Angela Davis
An Autobiography
Arrow, London, 1976
(price: 95p; 404 pages)

In 1960 an 18-year-old named George Jackson was charged in Los Angeles with participating in a robbery that netted $70. Badly advised, he pleaded guilty, expecting a lenient sentence, and was promptly sent to jail. He was still there in 1971, the year he was shot dead by a guard. Unsurprisingly, he became highly politicised during this period, and since this was California (under the nasty little regime of Governor Ronald Reagan) where the principal voice of black discontent was the Black Panther Party, Jackson became involved with them. His uncompromising campaign for the rights of prisoners attracted the hostile attention of the authorities, and in 1970 he was accused of murdering a prison guard and transferred to the high security gaol at San Quentin.

Shortly after this, Jackson's 17-year-old kid brother, Jonathan, invaded a courthouse, freeing and arming three accused men. They took five hostages, demanding the release of several prisoners including George Jackson, but in the ensuing police shoot-out, Jonathan and two others were killed.

At this point, the sorry little tragedy took a bizarre twist. One of Jonathan Jackson's friends - and a supporter of George Jackson - was Angela Davis, an assistant professor of philosophy at UCLA. A link was established between her and the guns that Jonathan Jackson had used in the hold-up, and a warrant was issued for her arrest on charges of conspiring to kidnap and murder. Understandably she figured that these absurd charges were being trumped up in order to teach a lesson to her and her ilk, so she did a runner. By the time she was caught - in New York - she was on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List.

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To see why Ms Davis was considered such a threat by the establishment, you really need to read her stuff. She's a brilliant writer and a phenomenal intellect (Herbert Marcuse called her the brightest student he'd ever taught). She's also, however, a black communist woman, which is the kind of combination that scares the hell out of the white power structure. Hence the persecution.

Of these books, the autobiography is the strongest: one of the definitive works to come out of the black struggles of the post-Civil Rights period, it's pretty damn essential. The others are more of their time. If They Come In The Morning... was published while Ms Davis was on remand and contains writings by and interviews with her and others, whilst Angela: Portrait of a Revolutionary is a bit of an oddity: published anonymously by a fellow academic in California, it too was written whilst she was on remand and is a tad breathless and excitable.

In case there's any doubt, Angela Davis was of course entirely innocent of the charges brought against her: less obvious is the fact that she was acquitted. Released from jail, she went from strength to strength, and virtually everything else she went on to write is worth reading. But the autobiography is still the heart of it all.

bonus book
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George Jackson
Blood in my Eye
non fiction