Three prominent women of the Black Freedom Movement answered questions from their unique female perspective in an open forum last week at Salt Lake Community College.
Angela Davis, Kathleen Cleaver and Margaret Burnham have dedicated their lives to the betterment of civil rights and social justice in one form or another. Davis is a longtime political activist, scholar, author, and former professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Cleaver graduated from Yale Law School summa cum laude and is well known for her involvement within the Black Panthers. Burnham is a professor of law at the Northeastern University of Law and the founder of that school’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project. Michele Goodwin, author and professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, joined the trio to moderate and summarize the discussion.
As attendees took their seats, they were handed a 3×5 card to write down a question that may be asked during the discussion. The first question asked was one on many minds, especially in this era of surveillance: “How can we be activist-citizens and not end up on the FBI’s Most Wanted list?”
This gave the panelists a bit of a laugh; Davis can relate from her personal experience as the third woman to be added to the list in 1970 for a crime she was later acquitted for in a federal court. The women then spoke about staying courageous, and standing up for what you believe in, and keeping your values.
“Once you do a courageous thing, you find you’re doing it your entire life,” Goodwin said.
Davis shared a story about an incident that occurred when she was jailed for her activist work. She was told she had a meeting with her lawyer, though it was a ruse to get her into an officer’s car. Though she refused to leave without speaking with her lawyer, the officers got her into the car eventually. They took her to an army airfield lined by machine gun nests, to make sure she got on a plane to her trial. Davis said it was scary of course, but she had no choice but to be courageous.
Cleaver talked about her marriage to Leroy Eldridge Cleaver, a Black Panther leader. She told the audience how she intended to meet her husband in Havana, Cuba, but was given a message to meet him in Algeria instead. When she arrived, she had on a mini skirt, a big afro, and hoop earrings, in a place where women were covered from head to toe and only showed half their face. One night after an argument with her husband, she left her temporary abode alone, and was stopped by police. She was ordered to return to her home, where FBI agents were waiting to capture her and her husband.
Burnham talked about being knowledgeable in whatever endeavor you find yourself in; how knowledge is power, and how necessary it is to read on a vast array of subjects outside of your chosen field. She stated how being in school is a time to find your voice. A unique voice, she said, will help you do whatever resonates with you in what you want to do.
The experience these women have attained and the deeds they have accomplished are nothing short of heroic. Everyone that attended the discussion panel walked away inspired that they too can make a difference in the world, and be the voice to incite change.