By THERESA HOGUEM, Gazette-Times reporter, January 20, 2007.
Former Black Panther rejects notion that equality campaign can be over
Civil rights activist and former Black Panther Party member Angela Davis drew a large and enthusiastic crowd at Oregon State University’s LaSells Stewart Center on Friday night.
Davis, now a professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, gave the closing address at a three-day OSU conference titled “Your Voice, Your Conference: Awareness, Solidarity, Action.”
Davis’ address began and ended with a standing ovation from the crowd, and she spoke for more than an hour about affirmative action, civil rights, the Iraq war, and the meaning of diversity.
“This is a very difficult period of history,” Davis said, “and sometimes I wonder what you will say when the younger generation asks you, decades from now, ‘What was it like to live’ during this era.”
History, as Davis views it, is remarkably narrow in the way in which it depicts certain pivotal events or people. For instance, on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth, she wondered how King had become the seeming solitary icon of the Civil Rights movement, when in fact King was one of many activists working on issues of justice and equality.
She asked if anyone could name the four women who organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which King was famous for championing. No one could.
This is not to say Davis, 62, was lessening the achievements of King, but that King’s success was based on a huge movement and a long history.
“I think his greatness resides precisely in the fact that he was willing to work with and listen to and learn from organized masses of people,” she said.
Davis struggles against the common conception that the Civil Rights movement is dead and gone, and that racism, sexism and inequality are no longer major issues in American society. While overt racism and segregation may not be as evident, she said, structural inequalities are as present today as they were when the movement began.
“We live with the vestiges of slavery, and evidence of the colonization of indigenous residents of this land,” she said. “Why do we refuse to acknowledge it?” ( see full text).