When discussing the beginning of the women’s rights movement, most would think of Susan B. Anthony, Seneca Falls, and the suffragette movement. However, there is another layer to this story that needs to be told: the influence of African American women on the women’s rights movement. Angela Davis is one contemporary example, spanning several layers of this movement from author and academic scholar to activist and politician. As her University of California Santa Cruz bio page describes, “she is a living witness to the historical struggles of the contemporary era” .
Although she grew up amidst racial strife, violence, and segregation, Davis was spurred into activism after the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham in 1963, which killed two of her childhood friends. She first joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), but eventually turned to the Black Panther Party. The next year, she was hired by UCLA as an assistant professor of philosophy, but was soon fired for her active involvement in the Communist Party. Shortly after, she was accused of having a supporting role in a courtroom kidnapping that resulted in four deaths leading to her placement on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List and an intense police search that drove her underground. All of this culminated in one of the most famous trials in recent U.S. history, and a sixteen-month incarceration which spurred the massive international “Free Angela Davis” campaign, culminating in her acquittal in 1972 .
Despite the fact that Ronald Reagan once vowed Angela Davis would never again teach in the University of California system, she is now the Distinguished Professor Emerita in the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies Departments at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She even took the fight to the political field when she ran for Vice President on the Communist Party ticket in 1980 and 1984. She has lectured all over the world, including all of the fifty United States, as well as in Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and the former Soviet Union and has written nine books.
In Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday, Davis details the feminist ideology representing working-class black communities of these women blues singers. In this newest addition to the history of black feminism, she argues that women’s blues, while not being what we may call feminist by today’s standard, certainly displayed feminist qualities and picked away at the traditional patriarchal ideology. The blues stretched gender relationships to their limits, and even beyond, challenging the often contradictory stereotypes, particularly about women. The blues combat these views with strong women who not only break the mold, but also show the reality of working-class black women.
These blues songs challenged the traditional patriarchal views of women as simply mothers and wives, showing strong, assertive women who were not afraid of their sexuality. “The representations of love and sexuality in women’s blues often blatantly contradicted mainstream ideological assumptions regarding women and being in love. They also challenged the notion that women’s ‘place’ was in the domestic sphere” . Davis points out that these stereotypical views were only true in middle-class white women’s lives, and yet were applied to women of all classes and races. Davis also expands heavily on the absence of the mother figure in women’s blues, which was not a rejection of motherhood. “Blues women found the mainstream cult of motherhood irrelevant to the realities of their lives. The female figures evoked in women’s blues are independent women free of the domestic orthodoxy of the prevailing representations of womanhood through which female subjects of the era were constructed” . Therefore, these blues songs redefined what it meant to be a black female, creating forms of oral histories of what working-class black women were like at this time.
Finally, the women’s blues portrayed the world with fearless, unadorned realism and named many of the problems that women’s rights activists fight for, most notably abusive relationships. The blues named the issue of violence against women, often using the distinctly African American use of humor, satire, and irony, making these songs similar to work songs denouncing the oppression of slavery through these means. However, this style has also caused many music scholars to misunderstand the meaning behind these songs, often seeing them as masochistic. Davis argues “Women’s blues suggest emergent feminist insurgency in that they unabashedly name the problem of male violence and so usher it out of the shadows of domestic life where society had kept it hidden and beyond public or political scrutiny” .
Angela Davis has fought for restorative justice on many different fronts for many different identities (black, female, even prisoners). She has fought in the streets in rallies, in the courtroom, and in the world of academia, arguing for equal rights and justice. She and others have made their mark on history and now it is up to the writers of history to remember them, both in the history books, as well as in the courtroom and society.
 University of California Santa Cruz, “Angela Y Davis,” University of California Santa Cruz Feminist Studies Department, accessed February 20, 2016. http://feministstudies.ucsc.edu/faculty/singleton.php?singleton=true&cruz_id=aydavis
 Sarah van Gelder, “The Radical Work of Healing, Fania and Angela Davis on a New Kind of Civil Rights Activism,” Truthout, published February 21, 2016, accessed February 22, 2016. http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/34915-the-radical-work-of-healing-fania-and-angela-davis-on-a-new-kind-of-civil-rights-activism
 Angela Y. Davis, Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday (New York: Vintage Books, 1998), 11
 Davis, Blues Legacies, 13
 Davis, Blues Legacies, 29-30