Television proved fittingly delicious last week as Angela Davis learned she was a descendant of Puritans who came over on the Mayflower, men who fought in the Revolutionary War — and others who owned slaves.
“I can’t believe this,” she said when Henry Louis Gates Jr., host of PBS television’s “Finding Your Roots,” revealed that she is a descendant of William Brewster, a Puritan leader who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620 and signed the Mayflower Compact.
Ms. Davis has been an outspoken advocate of reparations and critical race theory. According to today’s leftists, determined to rewrite U.S. history via “The 1619 Project,” Ms. Davis’ ancestors were among the original criminals who established the U.S. as a racist country. Therefore, their descendants, including Ms. Davis herself, are definitionally responsible for a society they now despise.
That’s not all. Direct ancestors on Ms. Davis’ mother’s side were slave owners. Her white Southern ancestors didn’t rape their slaves; they married free Blacks and lived happily with their mixed-race families.
This illustrates just how silly it is to try to divide citizens of this country along simple racial lines — or how simplistic it is to pretend understanding and visit the sins of long-dead generations on the living. Untold millions of 21st-century Black and White Americans have mixed blood running through their veins.
Modern DNA analysis demonstrates that we are all at least as much alike as we are different, something Ms. Davis and other racists find difficult to accept.
But at another level, those who have listened to the fiery revolutionary rhetoric of Ms. Davis for decades have to smile. She was often in the headlines in the 1960s and 1970s spewing hatred of the country that, as it turns out, her direct ancestor helped found.
It should be remembered that Ms. Davis wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill 1960s antiwar feminist radical and civil rights activist. She was and presumably is still a proud, believing communist. She worshipped Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Mao Tse-tung and Josef Stalin. She helped drive Whites who had risked and sometimes sacrificed their lives fighting for racial equality in the Deep South out of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, one of the leading biracial civil rights organizations of the era. She was a founder of the revolutionary Black Panther Party and applauded the racist rhetoric of its leaders.
Ms. Davis graduated from Brandeis University and pursued postgraduate studies in communist East Germany. She convinced herself if no one else that East Germany run by Stalinist dictator Erich Honecker and his secret police was freer than West Germany and more just than the United States. On her return, Ms. Davis joined the Communist Party USA and ran twice for vice president alongside its general secretary, Gus Hall.
In short, she was the real deal. She provided guns to Black activists who in 1970 seized a California courtroom where three people were shot to death, fled the jurisdiction, went into hiding, and for a time made the FBI’s Most Wanted List. Caught and jailed in New York, she escaped conviction on a technicality after having become a certified hero to the activist left. Hollywood raised money for her defense while John Lennon and Yoko Ono released a song called “Angela” in 1972.
Ms. Davis received awards and honorary degrees from American and foreign universities. She returned triumphantly to East Germany and the Soviet Union to accept an honorary doctorate from Moscow State University and the Lenin Peace Prize. Meanwhile, she led a celebrity-heavy campaign to “abolish” prisons in this country, but communist prisons were OK. When Alexander Solzhenitsyn asked her to join in urging the release of several political prisoners in communist Czechoslovakia, she refused.
Harvard’s Alan Dershowitz appealed to her to seek the release of refuseniks in the USSR, which she dismissed, saying: “They are all Zionist fascists.”
As we struggle to pay college tuition for the next generation, Mr. Davis and others like her enjoy professorships at some of our top universities, live on speaking fees from schools now run by men and women who in their student days marched with Ms. Davis, shared her views and are striving to convince a new generation of young people that the country they hated then is just as bad now.
To say Ms. Davis has mellowed would be a gross overstatement, but while she still claims to be a communist, she left the Communist Party USA in 1991 as her East German and Russian utopias collapsed. Racism, “white supremacists,” defunding the police and abolishing prisons and the need for reparations are among her favorite rants now.
And like so many of her old radical friends, she voted in 2020 not for any communist candidates, but for Joe Biden for president.
• David Keene is editor-at-large at The Washington Times.