Angela Davis


"The title for the exhibition Angela Davis—Seize the Time comes from a letter written by Angela Davis on May 2, 1971, while she was held in Marin County Jail, to fellow activist Ericka Huggins, who was herself incarcerated and on trial in Connecticut. The letter ends with the sentence, “All my love to you, Ericka, Bobby, to all the Sisters at Niantic. Seize the Time!” This phrase was a common rallying cry used by Black activists in the late sixties, in particular by Bobby Seale and other Black Panther Party members, to indicate the urgency of their task and the opportunities for revolutionary change. Seale also used it as the title of his 1970 memoir."
-Thomas Sokolowsi


A drawing of a radio show-style microphone rests beside the title of 'Activism'. When your mouse moves over the microphone it appears to vibrate and you can hear audio of Angela Davis stating 'We have no intentions of stopping this fight until we have eradicated every single remanence of racism in this country'
"Angela Davis is an academic, activist, author, scholar, and preeminent philosopher on freedom. At the height of her fame, 'Angela' was synonymous with 'revolutionary', and her image was instantly recognizable around the world. Since becoming an international cause five decades ago, Angela Davis remains a global icon and one of the leading public intellectuals of our time."
-Lisbet Tellefsen, archivist

"Davis's transformation, like her iconic status, was forged in a time of deep political division, and it remains rooted in the documentary record even as new histories complicate the stories of the radical movements on the left and right, the uses of violence and nonviolence, and the significant roles that women played on both sides.

"While the image of Davis is nostalgically situated within the period from 1970 to 1972, she embodies a continuing relevance as a political theorist, author, and organizer who works ceaselessly for social and economic justice. Now, fifty years after her battle with the American state, Davis is nearly universally acknowledged not simply as an icon of the later 1960s but as an inspiring teacher and author, brilliant intersectional scholar, and renowned champion of global human rights. Contemporary artists continue to reference her image, her writings, and her history."
-Donna Gustafson, exhibition co-curator


January 26, 1944

Angela Yvonne Davis is born in Birmingham, Alabama.


The Davis family moves from an all-Black Birmingham housing project, becoming the first Black family to integrate their new neighborhood. Davis attends segregated elementary and middle schools.

A picture of fifteen year old Angela Davis in her Girl Scout uniform smiles at the camera. The picture is in a sepia filter that emphasizes it's existence from the fifties.

Angela Davis, Girl Scout, 1959
Accessed at


Davis joins an all-Black Girl Scout troop. She later credits her membership in the Girl Scouts with the beginnings of her political involvement.

Davis wins a scholarship to attend Elisabeth Irwin, a progressive high school in Greenwich Village in New York City where she first studies socialism and reads The Communist Manifesto.


Davis, one of three Black students in her class, majors in French at Brandeis University near Boston. She visits Paris on her way to attend the eighth World Festival of Youth and Students in Helsinki and attends a pro-Algerian rally, where she witnesses French racism.

January 14, 1963

George Wallace, the governor of Alabama, proclaims, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”

Victims of the Baptist Church Bombing in Birmingham, 1963
Accessed at

September 15, 1963

In Birmingham, Alabama, a bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church kills four young girls: Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley. Two of the victims are known by the Davis family. Angela, just starting her junior year abroad, hears the news and phones home from Biarritz.

Black and white photograph of Angela Davis from the elbows up, looking serenely past the camera. Angela's hair is straightened in a bowl style.

Angela Davis’s Brandeis junior year yearbook photo, 1965-67.
Accessed from Lisbet Tellefsen Archive.


In her senior year at Brandeis, Davis takes a class with Herbert Marcuse, a Marxist philosopher, who will become a mentor and intellectual influence.


Davis graduates from Brandeis University with a BA in French literature, magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, then studies at Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Universität in Frankfurt, West Germany. From Germany, she follows the Black liberation movement developing back home.

Black and white overhead shot taken from the Watts Rebellion. Clouds of smoke fill the air from burning buildings.

Burning buildings during Watts Riots, 1965
Accessed at

August 11–16, 1965

The Watts Rebellion takes place in South Los Angeles.

October 29, 1966

Activist Stokely Carmichael declares, “Black Power!”

Black and white photograph of Huey Newton and Bobby Seale standing before a poster that reads 'Black Panther Party for Self Defense'. Both men have grim expressions and wear black berets, and Seale holds a gun.

Huey Newton and Bobby Seale standing on a street, armed with shotguns,
Accessed at

October 1966

Huey Newton and Bobby Seale form the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in Oakland, California.

September 1967–December 1968

Davis returns to the US to study with Marcuse at UCSD. On campus, she helps organize the first Black Student Council, becomes active in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Los Angeles, and helps create the People’s Tribunal Committee to deal with police brutality. She joins, and later leaves, the LA chapter of the Black Panther Party.

Demonstrators with signs, one reading Let not his death be in vain, in front of the White House, after the assassination of Martin Luther King, April, 1968

Demonstrators with signs, one reading "Let not his death be in vain", in front of the White House, after the assassination of Martin Luther King, 1968.
Accessed at

April 4, 1968

Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated.

July 1968

Davis formally joins the Communist Party and the Che-Lumumba Club, an all-Black communist collective named for Che Guevara and Patrice Lumumba.

Blue, green, and orange lithographic poster of Angela Davis on horseback in Cuba. Angela's hair is in her iconic afro.

Angela Davis on horseback in Cuba in 1969, Offset lithograph, 1971.
Accessed from Lisbet Tellefsen Archive.

March 24, 1969

Davis is offered a teaching contract as an acting assistant professor in the Philosophy Department of UCLA. In June, she spends a month in Cuba with other members of the Che-Lumumba Club.

July 1-16, 1969

The San Francisco Examiner outs Davis as a communist. The UCLA chancellor’s office notifies her of the policy against hiring Communist Party members and asks her to confirm or deny the accusation.

December 15, 1969 edition of Soul Newspaper. A black and white photograph of Angela Davis talking and looking upwards sits in the center of the page, with the words 'Angela Davis--black, beautiful, and red' typed across her image.

“Angela Davis: Black, Beautiful—and Red.” Soul, December 15, 1969.
Accessed from Lisbet Tellefsen Archive.

September 5, 1969

Davis publicly confirms that she is a communist.

An excerpt from Angela Davis's correspondence with the UCLA board, reading, 'Dear Miss Davis: The Regents of the University of California have a policy which specifies that no person who is a member of the Communist Party shall be employed by the University. The University has received reports to the affect that you are a member of that organization. An article appearing in the UCLA Daily Bruin of July 1, 1969 states that a person recently employed as an Acting Assistant Professor scheduled to begin teaching in the Winter Quarter in the Department of Philosophy is a member of the Communist Party. You have been appointed to such a position with a pay period from July 1, 1969 through June 30, 1970. An article in the San Francisco Examiner of July 9, 1969 through June 30, 1970. An article in the San Francisco Examiner of July 9, 1969 indicates that you are the person referred to in the Bruin article. Accorrdingly I am constrained be Regental ppolicy to request that you inform me whether or not you are a member of the Communist Party. Please furnish me with your written reply not later than July 25, 1969.'

An excerpt from Angela Davis's correspondence with the UCLA board, 1969.
Accessed at

September 19, 1969

The University of California Regents vote to fire Davis. She appeals the decision and is assigned to teach a Black literature course.

Lectures on Liberation poster  with a black and white, square closeup of Angela Davis's face in the center looking emotionlessly past the camera. Red and white vertical stripes are overlaid over Angela's face.

"Lectures On Liberation" publication, 1969.
Accessed from Lisbet Tellefsen Archive.

October 6, 1969

More than 2,000 students and faculty pack UCLA’s Royce Hall for Davis’s first lecture: “Recurring Philosophical Themes in Black Literature.”

October 20, 1969

A Superior Court Judge rules Davis’s firing unconstitutional and orders her fully reinstated. Davis becomes the target of death threats and harassment, making it necessary for her to travel with bodyguards. She purchases guns to protect herself.

A black and white image of Angela Davis smiling in front of a blackboard, her afro visible. Across her reads the words 'Angela: Portrait of a Revolutionary' and beneath that 'A film by Yolande Du Luart--A New Yorker Films release 60 Mins. B&W 16mm only rental:apply'.

"Angela: Portrait of a Revolutionary" flyer, 1969.
Accessed from Lisbet Tellefsen Archive.

November 1969

Yolande du Luart’s documentary, later called Angela Davis: Portrait of a Revolutionary, is filmed.

December 17, 1969

The UCLA faculty Academic Senate votes to condemn the Regents’ ruling and rescinds the 1950 resolution against hiring communists.

Excerpt of a black and white poster of the Soledad Brothers. On the left is an image of Fleeta Drumgo, on the top is a cut off image of George Jackson, and on the bottom is a cut off image of John Clutchette.

January 13, 1970

At Soledad State Prison, a guard shoots and kills three Black inmates whose deaths are ruled justifiable homicide. On January 16, a white Soledad guard is killed.

February 14, 1970

A grand jury indicts three Black prisoners, John W. Cluchette, Fleeta Drumgo, and George L. Jackson, known as the Soledad Brothers, for first-degree murder in the guard’s death.

February 1970

As co-chair of the Soledad Brothers Defense Committee, Davis uses her higher profile to focus attention on the Soledad Brothers’ case, arguing that they have been indicted because of their political beliefs.

Black and white photograph of a side by side comparison of Angela Davis and Jonathan Jackson.

Spring 1970

Jonathan Jackson, George’s younger brother, works closely with Davis, serving as her unofficial bodyguard. Davis and George Jackson begin to correspond.

June 8, 1970

The Board of Regents votes not to renew Davis’s contract, citing her political work on behalf of the Soledad Brothers and Black Panthers.

June 11, 1970

The UCLA faculty again voices their support and offers to pay Davis out of their own salaries.

Angela Davis Fired photograph, 1970.
Accessed from Lisbet Tellefsen Archive.

June 19, 1970

The Board of Regents fires Davis.

Black and white photograph of Jonathan Jackson and an accomplice taking hostage the members of the San Quentin courthouse.

Marin Co. Hostages photograph, 1971
Accessed from Lisbet Tellefsen Archive.

August 7, 1970

Jonathan Jackson enters a courtroom where a Black San Quentin prisoner is on trial. He gives guns to the defendant and two inmate witnesses; they take five hostages, including the judge, and attempt to escape. A San Quentin guard opens fire and Jackson, the judge, and two others are killed.

WANTED: Faith Beauty Integrity,
Mohamed K, Offset lithograph poster, 1970
Accessed from Lisbet Tellefsen Archive.

August 11, 1970

The police announce that the four guns brought into the courtroom by Jackson are registered to Davis. A warrant is issued for her arrest as an accomplice to kidnapping and murder – capital offenses. She goes into hiding.

Black, white, and red poster with a photograph of Angela Davis in front of a black and red version of the American flag. Beneath the image of Angela Davis reads, 'Sister: You Are Welcome Here'.

"Sister You Are Welcome Here" centerfold poster, Leviathan Publications, 1970.
Accessed from Lisbet Tellefsen Archive.

August 19, 1970

Davis is placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list – the third woman ever
to appear. While she is underground, signs announcing “Sister: You Are Welcome Here” appear in communities across the country.

October 13, 1970

Davis and a companion, David Poindexter, are arrested in Manhattan. She is held without bail at the Women’s House of Detention in New York City. Days later, the National United Committee to Free Angela Davis (NUCFAD) is founded.

October 15, 1970

On national television, President Richard Nixon congratulates the FBI on capturing “the dangerous terrorist, Angela Davis.”

October 23, 1970

Transferred to solitary confinement, she begins a hunger strike in protest.

Black and white photograph of Angela Davis whispering in her attorney's eary at her court hearings.

"Attorneys Confer" photograph, 1972.
Accessed from Lisbet Tellefsen Archive.

November 4, 1970

A federal judge rules there is no justification for solitary confinement. Davis’s legal team begins to assemble, among them Howard Moore, Jr., Leo Branton, Jr., Doris Brinn Walker, and members of the National Conference of Black Lawyers, the ACLU, and the National Lawyers Guild. Black People in Defense of Angela Davis, a committee of Black writersfrom New York, issues a statement on Angela’s behalf.

November 19, 1970

New York Review of Books publishes a letter by James Baldwin titled “An Open Letter to My Sister, Miss Angela Davis.”

December 21, 1970

Under military guard, Davis is extradited to California to stand trial.

January 5, 1971

Arraigned at the Marin County Courthouse in San Rafael, she is charged with murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy. Cards and letters of support from around the world flood the Marin County Jail.

A vertical card with a black and white portrait of a person staring head on at the top of the image, the right side of their face is darkened by shadow. There is an image of fragmented and overlapping shapes, with a pair of pink-colored roses in the center.

National United Committee to Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners, Greeting Card (with reproduction of Charles White’s Love Letter 1, 1971), Bifold card, 1971.
Accessed from Lisbet Tellefsen Archive.

February 1971

The National United Committee to Free Angela Davis includes over two hundred committees in the US and sixty-seven from Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America.

April 22, 1971

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union becomes the first union to announce support for Davis.

May 13, 1971

Superior Court Judge Richard E. Arnason presides over the trial.

June 15, 1971

Judge Arnason denies bail, ruling Davis is not entitled to bail since she is being tried for a capital offense.

July 22, 1971

“In Defense of Angela Davis” by Academics in Support of Angela Davis is published in the New York Review of Books.

August 21, 1971

George Jackson is assassinated by San Quentin prison guards.

Book Cover for 'Angela Y. Davis and Other Political Prisoners' with a foreword by Julian Bond and the subtitle 'If They Come in the Morning'. Beneath these titles is a black and white image of Angela Davis with her afro centered in the photograph.

If They Come in the Morning book by Angela Y. Davis, 1971.
Accessed from Lisbet Tellefsen Archive.

October 1971

400,000 Parisians march in support of Davis with her sister, Fania. Third Press publishes If They Come in the Morning: Voices of Resistance, an anthology edited by Davis from jail and Bettina Aptheker.

February 1972

A California State Supreme Court ruling overturns the death penalty, removing the obstacle cited by Judge Arnason in denying Davis bail. On February 23, with the $102,500 bail posted by Rodger McAfee, a white farmer from Fresno, California, Davis is free on bail.

Angela Davis On Way to Trial, 1972.
Accessed from Lisbet Tellefsen Archive.

February 28, 1972

Davis’s trial begins.

Trial sketch of Angela Davis hugging her mother after being declared not guilty. Drawn on paper in muted colors with quick, sketchy pencil marks. Angela and her mother appear to be holding each other tightly, relieved from the acquittal.

Trial Sketch "Angela & Mother Rejoicing." 1972.
Accessed from Lisbet Tellefsen Archive.

June 4, 1972

After deliberating for thirteen hours, the jury declares Davis not guilty on all counts.

June 29, 1972

15,000 people gather at New York’s Madison Square Garden to celebrate.

Angela Davis in Moscow, 1972.
Accessed at

August 30, 1972

Davis receives the Lenin Jubilee Medal in Moscow.

May 11, 1973

Davis announces the formation of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (NAARPR) in Chicago and serves as co-chair.

September 1974

Random House publishes Angela Davis: An Autobiography, edited by Toni Morrison.


Davis is hired by the Claremont Colleges in California as a lecturer in their Black Studies Center.


Davis is hired to teach at San Francisco State University.

April 30, 1980

Awarded the Lenin Peace Prize. With Gus Hall as presidential candidate, she runs for vice president on the Communist Party ticket in 1980. Their campaign slogan is “People Before Profits.”

Black and white poster advertising the First Black Lesbian Conference. A face is partially visible in white, emerging from the darkness of the black background. The words 'Becoming Visible' surround the face.

Becoming Visible: The First Black Lesbian Conference poster, 1980.
Accessed from Lisbet Tellefsen Archive.

October 17-19, 1980

Serves as keynote speaker for the First Black Lesbian Conference, “Becoming Visible,” held at the San Francisco Women’s Building.


Random House publishes Davis’s third book, Women, Race & Class.

Illustrated poster of Angela Davis and Gus Hall smiling and looking forwards. Figures are illustrated in black and white. Red text states 'Votes for Peace Jobs & Equality. Votes for Gus Hall and Angela Davis. Communist Party, USA'

Vote for Peace, Jobs & Equality,
offset lithograph poster 15.5 x 11 in, 1984.
Accessed from Lisbet Tellefsen Archive.


Davis runs again with Gus Hall in the 1984 presidential election.

July 1985

Attends United Nations Decade for Women conference in Nairobi. Davis leads a protest against the appointment of Maureen Reagan as the head of the US delegation.


Davis leaves the Communist Party.


Davis named Professor in the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies Departments. UC Santa Cruz.


Davis delivers the keynote speech at the annual National Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum.


Davis is appointed to the University of California Presidential Chair in African American and Feminist Studies.

Angela Davis pictured on the cover of Out Magzine, looking straight ahead with a determined gaze. The headline title states 'Exclusive: The 70s Revolutionary Icon Speaks Out'. Davis's portrait is picture in color.

OUT Magazine cover, 1998.
Accessed from Lisbet Tellefsen Archive.

February 1998

Appears on the cover of Out, a leading LGBT magazine.

September 1998

Davis is one of the organizers of the conference “Critical Resistance: Beyond the Prison-Industrial Complex,” held at UC, Berkeley.

April 2003

Seven Stories Press publishes Are Prisons Obsolete?


Davis retires from UC Santa Cruz as Distinguished Professor Emerita.


City Lights Press publishes The Meaning of Freedom: And Other Difficult Dialogues.

Photo of the Million Hoodies Union Square protest against Trayvon Martin's shooting death in Sanford, Florida.

Trayvon Martin shooting protest, 2012.
Accessed at


#BlackLivesMatter begins after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. The deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City in 2014 bring Black Lives Matter protests to the streets.


Haymarket Books publishes Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement.

February 2018

Davis donates her papers to the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University.

October 2018

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) names Davis the recipient of the 2018 Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award.

January 15, 2019

The BCRI Board of Directors rescinds the award after protests against Davis for her long-term support of Palestine. Weeks later, they reaffirm Davis is the recipient of the 2018 Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award.

January 24, 2019

Julie Dash announces she will direct a biopic on Davis.

September 14, 2019

Davis is inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York.

A mural depicting George Floyd, Tony McDade, and Breonna Taylor created by artist Leslie Barlow in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Justice for George Mural, 2020.
Accessed at

Summer 2020

George Floyd is killed by Minneapolis police and national and global protests erupt. The deaths of Breonna Taylor by the Louisville police and Ahmaud Arbery by three armed white men further enflame protest.

June 19, 2020

Throughout the US, crowds gather to celebrate Juneteenth, the holiday marking the emancipation of enslaved people in the US. In Oakland, Davis, Danny Glover, and other activists address the crowd calling for a continued commitment to the struggle for freedom.

September 2020

Davis is photographed for the cover of Vanity Fair and interviewed by Ava DuVernay.


Black Lives Matter is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

About the Exhibition:

Angela Davis: – Seize the Time is on view at the Zimmerli Art Museum through June 15, 2022. It will then travel to the Oakland Museum of California. The exhibition focuses on Davis and her image, providing a compelling and layered narrative of Davis’s journey through the junctures of race, gender, and economic and political policy. Featuring an archive in Oakland, California, collected and curated by Lisbet Tellefsen, the exhibition centers materials produced by an international community that assembled to protect Davis in a campaign to “Free Angela and All Political Prisoners.” It also contains magazines, press photography, court sketches, videos, music, writings, and correspondence. Materials also document her activist work in defense of the Soledad Brothers, her teaching, and her activities on issues related to freedom, oppression, feminisms, and prison abolition. Beyond the archive, the exhibition positions Angela Davis as a continuing touchstone for contemporary artists who reference her history as a political icon and her texts on revolution, feminisms, and incarceration.

The exhibition was co-curated by Donna Gustafson, Curator of American Art and Mellon Director for Academic Programs, Zimmerli Art Museum, and Gerry Beegan, Professor in the Department of Art & Design at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, with the assistance of an advisory group of intersectional scholars, artists, activists, and archivists who will participate in the exhibition, catalogue, and programming.

Admission to the Zimmerli is free for all. For current hours and information about related events, please visit

This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Grant funding has been provided by the Middlesex County Board of County Commissioners through a grant award from the Middlesex County Cultural and Arts Trust Fund. Additional support is provided by Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Endowment, Voorhees Family Endowment, Estate of Regina Heldrich, and donors to the Zimmerli’s Major Exhibitions Fund: James and Kathrin Bergin, Alvin and Joyce Glasgold, and Sundaa and Randy Jones.

Credits is a microsite conceptualized, designed and developed within the Design Practicum, Spring 2021 class at the Art & Design Department of Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University, New Brunswick.

This site is produced on the occasion of Angela Davis: Seize the Time, an exhibition held at the Zimmerli Art Museum. The exhibition is inspired by an archive in Oakland, California, collected and curated by Lisbet Tellefsen and is co-curated by Donna Gustafson, Curator of American Art, Zimmerli Art Museum, and Gerry Beegan, Professor of Art & Design at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University.

Sophia Krantz, Grace Taylor, Carissa Tsien and other designers in this class were inspired to pay tribute to this seminal exhibition through a contemporary and archival lens.