Women Can Be Heroes Too!

Peer into the lives of these two African American activists

 On the left,  Assata Shakur. On the right Angela Davis. 

On the left, Assata Shakur. On the right Angela Davis. 

Commentary by Dejour Sellers

February 26, 2015:  Hey, if anyone were to walk up to you right now and asked for two facts about Angela Davis and Assata Shakur, would you be able to answer? Do you even know who they are? If not, I’m here to teach you more about them. Without a doubt, these two amazing women inspire me to fight for my rights in the world. They taught me how to love myself and my people. It’s important to know about these amazing activists because they were fighting for African American and women’s rights in the 60s and we are still fighting for these rights today. These women can have a big influence on you as well.  

Angela Yvonne Davis, the political activist, member of the Black Panther Party and author was born in Birmingham, Alabama January 26, 1944. Assata Olugbala Shakur, African American activist and member of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army, was born in New York, New York on July 16, 1947. Both of these women were hardworking and dedicated to the changes that they wanted to make. Angela Davis wanted equality among all races and sexes. She wanted no discrimination against anyone. Shakur, very similar to Davis, wanted black people to have the same rights and privileges as white people did. They influenced a large community of African Americans and still hold that influence this very day. The 1960s and 70s is when they gained most of their fame and success as activists. These two women had similar incidents as well. They were both wrongly arrested by the police, fought to clear their names, and continued to speak out for civil rights.

Not only did Davis fight for African American and women’s rights but she was also known as a philosopher and a professor at University of Santa Cruz and San Francisco University. To this very day, Davis is still carrying on her legacy by giving speeches about the inequality that minorities are still facing. She was often given the title,“radical” though she never really did anything that extreme. She traveled to numerous places throughout the world to spread the knowledge that she gained from college and personal experiences. Although she always did her best, Davis was never fully satisfied with her work and always felt as if something was missing. So she worked even harder pushing herself to do more than anyone could imagine. She soon became involved with a case that involved three black men who were killed in Soledad Prison in California. A guard, O.G Miller, was accused of the crime. A short while after Soledad heard about the incident a guard, John V Mills, was found in the TV room of the prison severely beaten. He later died. 

Three of Soledad’s prisoners, Fleeta Drumgo, John W. Clutchette, and George Jackson, were held accountable for Mills’ death. On August 7th, during George Jackson’s trial, Jonathan Jackson, his brother, held Judge Harold Haley, a prosecutor, and three female jurors hostage in order to set two of the inmates on trial free. Jonathan wanted to exchange the hostages for his brother, but instead Jonathan, the two inmates, and Judge Haley were killed in a shoot out with police officers. After a biased investigation, authorities blamed Davis for purchasing the guns used in the crime. In 1970, Angela Yvonne Davis was the third woman in history to be put on the FBI’s “Top Ten Most Wanted” list. After going into hiding, Davis was arrested in New York until  June 1972, when she was acquitted and free of all charges.

Shakur describes herself as “the 20th century escaped slave”. She is an active advocate for black rights and mother of Kakuya Shakur. On May 2, 1973 she was pulled over in a car with close friends, Zayd Malik Shakur and Sundiata Acoli, for a faulty tail light and driving slightly over the speed limit. Assata testified that their car was pulled over because she was a part of the Black Liberation Army which authorities described as “a radical and violent organization of black activists” and that police opened fire killing Zayd. One of the policemen at the scene, Trooper Harper claims that after the other trooper,  Werner Foerster found a gun in the back of the vehicle that Shakur and her friends were in, Shakur pulled out a gun and shot Harper so he started to shoot back. Harper also claims that he saw Foerster fall around the same time Shakur fell to the ground leaving Acoli as a main suspect of Trooper Foerster’s death. Shakur also testified that after being shot twice by Trooper Harper, she climbed into the back seat of the car. Then the other passenger, Acoli, drove the car five miles down the road and parked it, where she remained until State Troopers dragged her onto the road. Assata was convicted as an accomplice in Trooper Foerster’s murder under New Jersey’s “aiding and abetting” statute. Shakur escaped from federal prison on November 2, 1979 and was pursued by the government until 1984 when she made her escape to Cuba. Assata Olugbala Shakur was named the most wanted woman in America. Since then Shakur released an autobiography. Her actions inspire many people today because she stayed strong through the situation and she never gave up on what she believed was right.

Take a seat and open your eyes to see what’s happening in the world then take another look into the lives of these two women. Really analyze the struggle that they put in for our generation so that we have at least a little more privilege than theirs. Think about how repeating their actions with more progress could make an even bigger impact on the world than it did back in the 70s. With the power of togetherness and influence from these two women, we could really change the world.

Dejour Sellers is a 12th grade student at Friendship Collegiate Academy.