Political activist Angela Davis to speak at Williams College

Editor's note: This story was updated on April 7, 2014 to clarify the Davis Center is screening the documentary "Free Angela and All Political Prisoners."

WILLIAMSTOWN -- Angela Davis, who was once listed on the FBI's most wanted list, is returning to Williams College on Saturday as a dignitary, author, public speaker, philosopher and scholar.

She was cleared of all charges -- after spending two years in prison -- related to an attempt to free left-wing activist and Black Panther George Jackson from a California courtroom in 1970.

Davis was a lightening rod for criticism in the 1960s and 1970s because of her prodigious efforts to battle racism and sexism in America.

Since then, she has become an outspoken leader in the effort to disassemble an industrial prison complex that has been generating revenue through the long-term incarceration of largely young African-American men and women -- many for minor drug crimes.

Davis' appearance, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 6:30 p.m. in Chapin Hall. Doors will open at 6 p.m. This will be her second visit to Williams College. She previously spoke at Williams in April 2001, when she talked about the American prison industry as part of a college Lecture Committee series.

Her appearance at Williams College was precipitated by the school's Black Student Union, which was seeking a speaker for a conference it was planning, said Taj Smith, assistant director of the Davis Center, the school's multicultural center.

"We decided to make it a campuswide and community event," Smith said. "Being at Williams College allows you to be able to afford such a speaker. It doesn't just happen anywhere."

Davis was a member of the Communist Party USA, and said to be an associate of the Black Panther Party. She was a candidate for vice president twice in the 1980s on the Communist Party USA ticket.

She is a retired tenured professor in the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California Santa Cruz. (In 1969, then-Gov. Ronald Reagan barred her from ever teaching at any California university. His order was overturned in court.)

She founded Critical Resistance, an organization advocating against the prison industrial complex.

"For students, she is a role model," Smith said. "What I like about her is that even with all of her accomplishments, she is grounded to the everyday person. She is a scholar, an author and an icon. The hope is that hearing her speak will take students' desire for accomplishment to the next level."

As a prelude to Davis' appearance, the Davis Center is screening the documentary "Free Angela and All Political Prisoners." The film will be shown at 6 p.m. Monday at the Paresky student center at Williams College. It is free and open to the public.

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