Davis at UF banquet: Stand up to injustice

Published: Monday, January 16, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 16, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
When Angela Davis was jailed on murder charges three decades ago, college students wore "Free Angela Davis" buttons until she was acquitted.
And today, the legendary social rights activist still has a presence on campuses across the country, including the University of Florida, where her autobiography regularly appears on student reading lists.
Davis presided as the keynote speaker for a student-run Martin Luther King Jr. Day awards banquet Sunday night. She drew cheers and a standing ovation from a standing room only crowd at the University of Florida's Reitz Union Ballroom even before she began her speech.
Davis borrowed King's words before offering her own.
"We are called on to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nations and other nations. . . . Until someone hears their broken cries," she quoted from King's 1967 speech.
Then Davis told the audience, "Ask yourselves to whom is he referring, to the people of 1967, or is he talking about 2006?"
She said she deplores when the poor are treated as a threat, as in the way many black victims following Hurricane Katrina were portrayed as "murderers, rapists and pillagers."
She said King's words should be re-examined for a meaning that could apply to struggles continuing in the 21st century. Davis, a former Black Panther and an icon for fighting for equality, stumps for causes such as an end to the United States' prison system and a call for Martin Luther King Jr. Day to become a national holiday.
She recalled the 1960s as a time when the civil rights movement was received with hostility, yet now it is celebrated by the nation.
Back then, she said, "Thousands of ordinary people embraced the struggle for equality as a way of life" rather than a day-to-day option.
She praised the Black Graduate Student Organization, which hosted the event, for choosing the theme, "Get Up, Get Out and Do Something: Building Alliances to Promote Change" and repeated it several times.
"That's especially appropriate to me today when there is so much injustice in the country and the world, and yet we seem to have lost the ability to act."
Back in the 1960s when four of her friends were killed by the Ku Klux Klan in the Birmingham church bombing and King's death inspired her to join the Black Panthers, Davis became an icon on college campuses across the nation.
"I can't think of a single dorm that didn't have an Angela Davis poster on the wall," said UF Assistant Dean Terry Mills, who also spoke at the event. A bold, black woman with a signature Afro hairdo, Davis fearlessly demanded social change and campaigned both in the United States and abroad for racial and gender equity.
"She's a part of that history in which young people in America began to speak out. They were just beginning to become socially active, and for the first time they were getting involved and demanding change," Mills recalls.
Now a professor at the University of California in Santa Cruz, Davis is still demanding social change. She campaigns especially for "prison abolition," the idea of eliminating prisons and instead offering alternative punishments and crime prevention tactics.
Davis once ran for vice-president on the communist ticket, and though she has since left the party, she continues to believe democracy works better with socialism than capitalism.
Black Graduate Student Organization President Anjelique Nixon, who organized the event, said about 425 people attended the banquet. Additionally, about 70 people crowded in to hear Davis speak.
Every year, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day banquets are a major event for the organization.
In years past, the events have included speakers such as actor Danny Glover and writer Kevin Powell, and each year student winners of a scholarship contest read essays befitting the banquet's theme.
Tiffany Pakkala can be reached at (352) 338-3111 or pakkalt@gvillesun.com

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top