The University of Michigan-Flint, a campus associated with the more prestigious University of Michigan that is located 45 miles away, is welcoming a former leader of the Communist Party USA and black power radical as a visiting professor. Angela Davis will give lectures and teach classes at the campus in Flint, an economically distressed city where General Motors was founded that has since become better known for violent crime. Plans are being made to welcome her for a week-long visit in March 2016. Earlier in 2015, she delivered a lecture on the UM-Flint campus where she was feted by students and out of town visitors.
In an emailed announcement to the university community, UM-Flint Chancellor Susan Borrego expressed her delight to have Davis on campus. Referring to Davis as a “renowned educator and activist for social justice,” Borrego wrote that as an educator “at the university level and in the larger public sphere,” Davis “has always emphasized the importance of building communities of struggle for economic, racial, and gender equality.” While mentioning Davis’s work on “social problems associated with incarceration and the generalized criminalization” of communities experiencing poverty and racial discrimination, Borrego did not mention the visiting radical’s association with the Communist Party. Borrego did allude, however, to Davis’s “experiences in the early seventies as a person who spent eighteen months in jail and on trial, after being placed on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted List.”” However, Borrego did not mention the circumstances surrounding the charges against Davis.
Also missing from Borrego's announcement is that Davis is an advisor to the BlackLivesMatter movement, which grew out of the disturbances in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 and that has since been involved in the protests at the University of Missouri that led to the resignation of a president and a chancellor of the institution. Currently, Davis is an emerita faculty member of the University of California-Santa Cruz.
Davis was arrested, charged, tried, and acquitted of conspiracy in the 1970 armed take-over of a courtroom in Marin County, California, resulting in the death of four persons, including a judge. Her membership in the Communist Party led then-governor Ronald Reagan to request having her barred from teaching at any public university in the state of California. Davis was twice a candidate for Vice President on the Communist Party USA ticket during the 1980s. Davis left the Communist Party USA following disagreements over CPUSA support for a Soviet coup d'etat. She subsequently helped found the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, which permits dual membership in the CPUSA and the Socialist Party.
Davis comes at a time when political tensions in Flint have been heightened. The city, where thousands of people were once employed by the automobile industry and enjoyed an enviable lifestyle, has decayed steadily since the 1980s after the closing of most of the factories. Diminishing city revenues because of steadily dropping property values and demographic decline, coupled with criminal violence and poor city administration, have led to the imposition of managers appointed by the state. Tensions between the city council, elected mayor, and the state manager flared after the city cut itself off from water supplied by the City of Detroit, 80 miles away, due to a dispute over the price of the water supplied.
Flint switched to the river passing through the city for its water supply. When chemicals and lead were found in the water, activists such as famed Erin Brockovich came to the city to demand that the city reconnect to the Detroit supply. A representative of Al Sharpton’s national compared the quality to the water this summer to the poison used to kill millions of Jews during the Holocaust. This came during an election year, which saw the incumbent and Rhodes scholar, Dayne Walling, defeated by a political newcomer, Karen Weaver: the first black woman to win a mayor’s race in Flint. She was assisted by disgraced former mayor Woodrow Stanley, who was recalled in 2002 after three terms in office due to the city's shaky financial condition. A state appointed financial manager was appointed after he left office.
Citizens groups and politicians have endeavoured to pin the blame on one party or another for the decision to switch from the expensive water supplied by Detroit to Flint River water. Rep. Dan Kildee (D), the scion of a political family, has joined local Democrats to demand action by Governor Rick Snyder and seeking to blame a city manager appointed by Snyder. The governor, working with city officials and a philanthropy, has been able to obtain funding to reconnect Flint to Detroit. The state provided $9.4 in emergency funds, while cash-strapped Flint kicked in $2 million. Meanwhile, hundreds of residents have not paid their water bills and water continues to leak through the ageing system of supply pipes throughout the city.
The 71-year-old Davis was associated with the Black Panthers, a leftist black nationalist group on whom multiple murders have been blamed. She was also a supporter of the Soledad Brothers: three inmates accused of killing a prison guard at Soledad Prison in California. She is most celebrated for a trial over her alleged involvement in the seizure of a courtroom in Marin County, California. In August 1970, a heavily-armed 17-year-old Jonathan Jackson took control of the courtroom and provided arms to two black defendants. Taking the judge, prosecutor, and three female jurors as hostages, Jackson and the defendants fled in a vehicle. Police chased them and became firing on the vehicle. The judge and the three black men were killed in the shootout.
It was determined that the firearms used by Jackson and the defendants had been purchased by Angela Davis just two days before. Davis was charged with "aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder in the death of Judge Harold Haley" and issued a warrant for her arrest. Davis managed to elude a massive manhunt, leaving California. In October 1970, Davis was arrested in New York City. In court, back in California, she declared her innocence and thus began the celebrated efforts to exonerate her.
Scores of citizen’s committees were formed to demand her release. Among her attorneys were John Abt, the general counsel of the Communist Party, and Leo Branton Jr, who used sophisticated methods for jury selection. Ultimately, she was acquitted. Upon her release, she went to live for a time in communist Cuba, emulating other black nationalists such as Huey Newton and Assata Shakur. The latter had fled Cuba after being accused of the murder of a state trooper in New Jersey.