Abolition and Black Liberation: The Connections Of Angela Y. Davis and the Principles of Black Feminist Thought

Womxn: means being inclusive of Trans* and Non-Binary activists of the time, as well as in the present climate. 

As one avenue to learn more about marginalized and Black issues, here is Nautia's Linktree

While the modern Feminist movement during the Second Wave period of the 1960s and 1970s strived for "equality" in regard to Women’s Rights, those efforts, in similarity to the Suffrage Movement, were not inclusive of women of color, specifically in regard to Black women. As performative movements displayed fronts to support “women,” those sentiments were not matched with supporting Black women or considering ways to be present through allyship. Instead, Black women were met with erasure, disdain, doubt, racism, gaslighting, and tone policing. The reality for Black women during this time in regard to their experiences with white women-led movements was centered on white feminism in connection with the idea of liberation being for economic pursuits and the “freeing” of suburban middle-class white women. Prominent Black women leaders during this time period, such as Shirley Chisholm and Angela Davis were not uplifted or centered by feminists by any means. The intended plan of this project is to examine the different sectors of the Second Wave and how each diverse issue explores the lack of dedication or inclusivity dedicated towards the topic. With that being said, this section will explore author, activist, educator, and speaker Angela Davis’ impact on the principles of Black Feminist Thought.

FBI Wanted Poster for Angela Y. Davis.

Pictured is the Federal Bureau of Investigation's poster for the "Ten Most Wanted Fugitives" list, including for activist Angela Davis' arrest in August of 1970. Courtesy of Bettmann/Getty Images

Upon examining the impact of the Second Wave Feminism movement, there is no debating that the topic of women's rights centered around white women. There are perpetual histories and systems of erasure to ignore, demean and steal from the contributions of Black women, thus leading to many Black women activists creating their own movements and platforms in order to center, protect, and elevate the importance of Black liberation and womanhood. Groups such as the Combahee River Collective, as well as leaders such as bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, and Angela Davis served as some of the main builders toward Black Feminist Thought through priotizing universal liberation, holding white feminists and supremacists accountable for their behaviors, while also building coalition and community efforts to support the Black community. Throughout this page, the connections between activist Angela Davis’ actions, theories, and perspectives will be in conjunction with the principles of Black Feminist Thought. The two sectors are used to emphasize what Black liberation and abolition entailed during this time period and moving forward.

To fully be aware of some of the stakes for Black women during this time, there should be an acknowledgment that Black rights and liberation during the Second Wave were also considered to be “undercurrents,” as Black women were expected to uplift the liberation of neoliberal white feminists through being women first while also being under the expectation to leave their Blackness at the door.  Both Davis and Black Feminist Thought center, embrace, and appreciate Blackness.  As Davis and the principles of Black Feminist Thought both counteract those harmful beliefs, there should also be a consideration between the Second Wave period and the current climate, which reflects the same sentiments of white supremacy, white feminism [10], and exclusion which many Black women, Trans*, Queer, and Disabled activists are attempting to eradicate. These histories are just as essential to acknowledge now as they were during the counteraction against the racist and exclusionary tendencies of the Second Wave feminism movement. 

Historical Context

The Second Wave period of the Women’s movement, which focused on feminism, signified a changing shift for white women and the rising ideologies of pay equity and their sense of “liberation.” The toxic aspect of this movement is like the Suffrage movement and other mainstream movement aspirations, it by no means centered or supported womxn of color, particularly Black womxn. According to author Becky Thompson’s excerpt, it states, “This feminism is white-led, marginalizes the activism and worldviews of women of color, focuses mainly on the United States, and treats sexism as the ultimate oppression” [1]. With this quote itself, it exemplifies the hard truth many proclaimed feminists refused to acknowledge. Looking at the Second Wave, which took place between the 1960s and 1970s, the notoriety and main actions of this wave is centered on white women expanding out of the patriarchy, not understanding that with their oppression due to gender, they also play roles as oppressors when dismissing the concerns, criticisms, and perspectives of women of color. 

The privilege is astronomical and reviewing feminism from a historical context, white women, during this time, and afterwards, are under the notion that it is the job of marginalized groups to serve and fight for their liberation. In this expectation, the goal is centered on whiteness, not recognizing the importance of fighting for universal liberation. Thompson goes to state, “Telling the history of second wave feminism from the point of view of women of color and white anarchist women illustrates the rise of multiracial feminism -- the liberation movement spearheaded by women of color in the United States in the 1970s that was characterized by its international perspective, its attention oppressions, and its support of coalition politics” [4]. When looking at revisionist history and whitewashed histories being taught or etched into so-called, social justice analyses, if those aspects are not intersectional, they do not count. To fully grasp the weight of erasure pushed during this time period consists of deconstructing biases and engaging into a wide education concerning the plethora of Black-led movements and leaders, particularly the contributions of Angela Davis and the principles of Black Feminist Thought. 

Black Revolution and Systemic Injustice: Angela Davis

Angela Davis is considered as one of the most influential leaders in regard to anti-racism, abolition, and anti-sexism work. Her perspectives and ideologies are based on eradicating all forms of oppression, but also emphasizing the interconnections of race, gender, class, and other societal aspects. The span of connecting her to Black Feminist Thought are not far-fectched, because Davis’ work is rooted in supporting Black womxn and evaluating strategies for full Black liberation to take place. However, in these efforts, which are indicative of human rights, many white supremacists, racists, and bystanders considered her efforts to be terrorism and in support in deconstructing the traditional racist American fabric. During the Second Wave time period, Davis provided commentary towards the state of feminism on UCLA’s campus in 1974. The article from the Off Our Black publication states, “Davis criticized white women activists for seeking the support of Black women in pro-abortion campaigns and not offering support to denounce forced sterilizations. Davis stressed the need for unity among working women, particularly Black and other women of color. She concluded with a rebuke to campuses who allow racist scholars to speak for sterilizations, saying, ‘Freedom of speech must be defended in order to enlarge freedom’” [8]. Intersectionality is not a biased mindset, it attempts to eradicate the ideas the only important narratives reflect are those of the white elites or middle-class. Davis challenges white women and “activists” in their endeavors to truly ask if liberation is rooted truly for everyone, or those who have white skin. There is a blind application of equality being an easy feat or something that is accessible in regards to opportunity, yet not recognizing that the systems are not broken; they were built corrupt. 


It must said and acknowledged that Davis was subjected to many forms of Anti-Black terrorism due to her efforts and engaging in socialist and marxist strategies to consider the multitude of ways to protect Black people. The source, “Black Power and the Freeing of Angela Davis,” acknowledges. The source states, “Going underground to elude the police, Davis began a two-month odyssey as she crossed the country from California to New York City. The FBI even captured her there. Meanwhile, the deeply divided party leaders (Black Power movement) met to decide a course of action. Many of the comrades feared a renewed Red Scare directed at the party because of Davis’ high profile membership and the old charges that the party advocated force and violence to overthrow the state” [6]. This excerpt symbolizes that Davis also created concern amongst other Black leaders due to her “revolutionary” tactics and ways to engage with challenging the nation-state, while holding it accountable for its actions against Black people. Part of Black Feminist Thought and Angela Davis’ principles are that these issues and action plans are not discussed to be likeable, but rather to be firmly brought into dialogue and abolition as the very systems being discussed are responsible for the continuous oppression against Black people. Having a young Black woman denouncing those systems results in garnering the similar examination that the Black Panthers received, being deemed as terrorists while stalked by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The constant effects of flourescent lighting and a short range of visual focus have permanently damaged her eyesight. Because of defective diet and food, Sister Davis has lost 20 pounds and now suffers dental problems. This systemic assault on Sister Davis' physical well-being recalls the horrors of The Middle Passage, and indicates the full intention of the racist officials of California to destroy her life -- by any means

An excerpt from the Free Angela Davis campaign, where it details the inhumane treatment and abuse Davis suffered following her arrest and imprisonment. 

Defining Black Feminist Thought.

What many tend not to realize is the matter of Black principles being universally grounded for centuries. Let’s start off of with the general premisis of Black Feminist Thought: supporting, uplifiting, and elevating Black womxn, as we are aware that the only folks who can collectively meet our needs is us. There is a general understanding with the construction of these principles that Black womxn (including Trans* and Non-Binary folks) are not respected or protected in the United States or globally. Black Feminist leader Dr. Patricia Hill Collins in “The Social Construction of Black Feminist Thought,” states, “Sojourner Truth, Anna Julia Cooper, Ida Wells Barnett, and Fannie Lou Hamer are but a few names from a growing list of distinguished African-American women activists. Although their sustained resistance to Black women’s victimization within interlocking systems of race, gender, and class oppression is well known, these women did not act alone. Their actions were nurtured by the support of countless, ordinary African-American women who, through strategies of everyday resistance, created a powerful foundation for this more visible Black Feminist tradition” [9]. Dr. Collins’ connection and framing of Black Feminist Thought is grounded in acknowledging the work of historical Black women activists, while also comprehending that the very basis of the ideology is intersectionality; an aspect Angela Davis discusses in her book, Women, Race, and Class. Black Feminist Thought is centered not only as an ideology or a framework, but also as a safe space and strategies for Black women to mobilize and support one another. The basis of patriarchy, white supremacy, and all forms of oppression is to keep Black and Indigenous womxn from pursuing the necessary means of abolition and going forward with our liberation.

Dr. Collins also goes on to state, “Yet African-American women have been neither passive victims of nor willing accomplices to their own domination. As a result, emerging work in Black women’s studies contends that Black women have a self-defined standpoint on their own oppression” [9]. The work has always been there. There is no excuse asof  to why Black women are the sole ones truly fighting for their liberation, especially considering the systems and institutions perpetuated are not of our doing. Part of connecting Davis and Black Feminist Thought in contrast to the Second Wave movement is emphasizing how different groups are impacted in differing ways. Part of the damage is through the lens of policing Black womxn and not understanding that without the help and contributions of Black womxn and marginalized groups, many mainstream social justice endeavors would simply not exist or thrive to the manner in which they have. Part of this ideology is also recognizing principle, not impeding in Black spaces, and asking yourself the hard questions of how you will hold yourself accountable in regards to oppression and the roles you play. 

Connections: The Harm of the Second Wave on Black Womxn. 

During the Second Wave, what Davis and theorists of Black Feminist Thought discussed was not new. The very same sentiments of restricting equity and opportunities to Black people is rooted in a history of Anti-Blackness in this country [2]. Let us also not be mistaken that Black liberation is not just centered on race, class, and gender, but also sexuality. Groups such as the Combahee River Collective, centered themselves on dismantling the patriarchy, while also creating safe spaces for Black queer womxn, including Trans* and Non-Binary people. What Davis and Black Feminist Thought share is the principle that there is no time to wait or even to ponder if these are questions which should be asked: they are a necessity and action must be pursued, unless the constraints of capitalism and injustice are accepted, which in a rhetorical and literary fashion is self-explanatory. Many of the mainstream feminists elevated during that time were women such as Gloria Steinem (pictured to the right). It is not being said that feminists (in general) were bad individuals, but rather having them recognize the ways in which their policies and agendas did not back up what their movements claimed to stand for: "the rights of all women." Looking back at those movements in hindsight, there has been progression, but the aspects Angela Davis and Black Feminist Thought have in common are anti-capitalist, anti-racism, and anti-oppression strategies used to protect marginalized groups; those who are often left as the undercurrents in the U.S. and global societies [Refer to Source 4].

We Are Not Done.

There must be a collective recognition to stop using Black womxn. In this, there should be action plans and collective acknowledgements as to how privilege, racism, sexism, and white feminism/supremacy encourages the locomotion of injustice to continue [Refer to Source 3]. We should not tokenize Black leaders or turn them into martyrs, but rather fully take heed into their messages and consider ways to be of  service, persistently. There must be a global and domestic reckoning that is centered on education, activism, and advocacy that is not just expecting Black and Indigenous womxn to do the heavy lifting. The level of erasure measured against these communities furthers systemic and institutional inequalities. There is still much work to do. Many are under the impression that social justice efforts are “done” because of the post-election outcomes; however, through Davis and Black-based theories, we should recognize that our job is just beginning. Activists in a modern context are influential, including the perspectives and actions of Black Trans* womxn, including activist Raquel Willis, known for her efforts in abolition, Black liberation, and the importance of centering Queer and Trans* voices and lives in every socio-political atmosphere. The work is not something solely destined for marginalized communities. If anything, this should serve as an example to privileged groups to engage and be ready to put in work.


As Angela Davis stated, “Freedom Is A Constant Struggle.”


[1] Barnett, Bernice McNair. "Angela Davis and Women, Race, & Class: A Pioneer in Integrative RGC Studies." Race, Gender & Class 10, no. 3 (2003): 9-22. Accessed October 9, 2020. 

[2] Corrigan, Lisa M. "Theorizing Black Power in Prison: The Writings of George Jackson and Angela Davis." In Social Controversy and Public Address in the 1960s and Early 1970s: A Rhetorical History of the United States, Vol. IX, edited by JENSEN RICHARD J., 39-82. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2017. Accessed October 9, 2020. doi:10.14321/j.ctt1vjqqkq.6.  

[3] Ferguson, Susan. "Anti-Racist Feminism and Women’s Work." In Women and Work: Feminism, Labour, and Social Reproduction, 71-82. London: Pluto Press, 2020. Accessed October 10, 2020. doi:10.2307/j.ctvs09qm0.9.

[4] Thompson, Becky. "Multiracial Feminism: Recasting the Chronology of Second Wave Feminism." In No Permanent Waves: Recasting Histories of U.S. Feminism, edited by HEWITT NANCY A., 39-60. NEW BRUNSWICK, NEW JERSEY; LONDON: Rutgers University Press, 2010. Accessed October 28, 2020. http://www.jstor.org.mutex.gmu.edu/stable/j.ctt1bmzp2r.6

[5] Davis, Angela. "FREE ANGELA DAVIS." The Black Scholar 3, no. 4 (1971). Accessed October 28, 2020. http://www.jstor.org.mutex.gmu.edu/stable/41203703

[6] Murrell, Gary, and Bettina Aptheker. "Black Power and the Freeing of Angela Davis." In "The Most Dangerous Communist in the United States": A Biography of Herbert Aptheker, 271-83. AMHERST; BOSTON: University of Massachusetts Press, 2015. Accessed October 28, 2020. http://www.jstor.org.mutex.gmu.edu/stable/j.ctt1cx3tjt.24

[7] Dow, Bonnie J. "After 1970: Second-Wave Feminism, Mediated Popular Memory, and Gloria Steinem." In Watching Women's Liberation, 1970: Feminism's Pivotal Year on the Network News, 168-200. University of Illinois Press, 2014. Accessed October 28, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt6wr5ts.10.

[8] "Angela Davis on Women." Off Our Backs 4, no. 7 (1974): 10. Accessed October 28, 2020. http://www.jstor.org.mutex.gmu.edu/stable/25783857.

[9] Collins, Patricia Hill. "The Social Construction of Black Feminist Thought." Signs 14, no. 4 (1989): 745-73. Accessed October 28, 2020. http://www.jstor.org.mutex.gmu.edu/stable/3174683

[10] Breines, Wini. "Sixties Stories' Silences: White Feminism, Black Feminism, Black Power." NWSA Journal 8, no. 3 (1996): 101-21. Accessed October 28, 2020. http://www.jstor.org.mutex.gmu.edu/stable/4316463

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