Angela Davis poses for a portrait in 2013 in New York. 

BIDDEFORD — Very few gained as much notoriety and dominated news cycles as Angela Davis did in the 1960s and 1970s and now the well-known political and social activist will be the featured speaker at the University of New England as the school observes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Biddeford on Jan. 23.

Davis, first came to national prominence in 1969 when she was fired from a professor position at the University of California, Los Angeles for being a member of the Communist Party USA. Her involvement as an associate of the Black Panther Party led her to support the Soledad Brothers, three inmates accused of killing a prison guard at Soledad Prison in California. During their trial, they took a judge and a juror hostage and tried to escape before law enforcement stopped the incident with a barrage of bullets.

All three prisoners and the judge died and a warrant for the arrest of Davis was issued when she was accused of corresponding with one of the prisoners and providing guns used in the incident. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover listed Davis on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List and she was captured and stood trial in 1972 for providing guns for the Black Panthers, but was acquitted and set free from custody.

Ever since then, Davis has remained an activist for political, feminist and social issues and now writes about and advocates extensively on social problems associated with incarceration, poverty and racial discrimination.

UNE’s Director of Intercultural Student Engagement Erica Rousseau said that hosting Davis at the school holds special meaning to her.

“This is very personal for me,” Rousseau said. “Growing up and learning about heroes like Harriet Tubman and Angela Davis, I knew that black women can change the world, and so I knew that I could too. Bringing Angela Davis to campus is a significant event in my life, and I know that seeing her in person and hearing her speak will be a momentous event in the lives of our students and our community members.”

Dr. James Herbert, UNE president, said he’s using the upcoming presentation by Davis at the university (and its predecessor institutions St. Francis College and Westbrook Seminary) to reflect on their welcoming of Franco-Americans and women during times when immigrants and women were often absent in higher education.

According to Herbert, the lecture by Davis at UNE should be an opportunity to champion the university’s historic devotion to inclusion and its dedication to a future of diversity and fairness.

“Angela Davis’ visit to UNE reminds us of our remarkable institutional history, a history of including those who are excluded and championing those who are shunned,” Herbert said. “We are also reminded of our aspirations and what we seek to be — a university that instills in every single one of our students the drive and ability to advocate for equality and justice. It is a great privilege to host such a pivotal figure in the history of American activism.”

Davis is the author of nine books and has given lectures all over the United States and in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and South America. Her later teaching career included stints at San Francisco State University, Mills College, and UC Berkeley and she taught at UCLA, Vassar, the Claremont Colleges and Stanford University.

She spent the last 15 years of her teaching career as a professor of feminist studies and the history of consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz, retiring in 2008.

A luncheon will run from noon to 12:30 p.m. which will precede the presentation by Davis at 12:30 p.m. in the Harold Alfond Sports Forum on UNE’s Biddeford Campus. The topic of her presentation is “Freedom is a Constant Struggle” and the speech will be livestreamed to Innovation Hall on UNE’s Portland Campus.

The lunch and lecture in Biddeford and the livestream in Portland are free and open to the public, but spaces are limited.

UNE’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration is held annually to remember King’s visit to St. Francis College (UNE’s precursor) in May 1964, and aims to encourage discussion of racial equality in the 21st century. The celebration is coordinated each year by UNE’s Office of Intercultural Student Engagement with support from students, faculty and staff.

Ed Pierce can be reached at 282-1535 or by email at [email protected]

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