Angela Davis was born in 1944 in Birmingham, Alabama, to educated, politically active, middle-class parents. She attended high school at the Little Red School House, a radical private school in Greenwich Village. She then attended Brandeis on a full scholarship, one of only three Black students in her entering class.
Davis graduated from Brandeis magna cum laude in 1965. During her time there, she spent several semesters in Europe, particularly France, and became involved in the European Communist Party and in the Black Power movement. She living in Germany on and off for several years post-graduation, taking her masters from the University of California, San Diego and her Ph.D. in philosophy from the Humboldt University of Berlin, GDR.
During her time as an advanced student in the late 1960s, Davis began working as a lecturer at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1969, the UCLA Board of Regents, headed by Ronald Reagan, made the controversial decision to fire her based on her ties to the Communist Party. She was later reinstated, due to public outcry.
During the late 1960s, Davis was involved in the Communist Party, radical feminist organizations, and the Black Power movement, including the Black Panthers. In 1970, she became the third women ever on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List, after she was charged with kidnapping, conspiracy, and murder in the Black Panther's disruption of the Soledad Brothers' trial and subsequent kidnapping and murder of Judge Harold Haley.
Davis was a fugitive for several months before she was detained in New York City. After spending several more months in jail awaiting and standing trial, she was cleared of all charges in 1972.
After she was released, Davis briefly relocated to Cuba. Upon her return to the U.S., she continued a lifetime of teaching and activism. She has been an outspoken opponent of the U.S. prison system and the death penalty, as well as a prominent feminist leader, for several decades. She is a co-founder of Critical Resistance, a grassroots organization dedicated to abolishing the prison-industrial complex. She currently heads the Feminist Studies department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she teaches mostly graduate level courses. She has also authored several books and speaks widely.
In 1997, Davis came out as a lesbian.