Sep 14 2012

The Love Letters of Angela Davis & George Jackson

A few years ago, I came across a copy of the “City Magazine” which was owned by famed director Francis Ford Coppola in the 1970s. He apparently lost hundreds of thousands of dollars on this venture. Anyway, the issue that I found in a thrift store was from October 1975 and the cover had the following headline: “The Prison Love Letters of Angela Davis to George Jackson.” The magazine came into possession of these letters and printed them in their entirety. I bought the publication for $5 and put it in storage. Today, I thought that I would write about this historical moment on the blog.

On July 8th, 1971, Angela Davis and George Jackson met in a holding cell beside a courtroom in the Marin Civic Center in the company of two attorneys and an outside observer. It was the first time that they would be in the same room together for an extended period of time. About a year earlier, Davis had seen Jackson when she attended his pre-trial hearing. She had been organizing to free the Soledad Brothers.

After their July 1971 meeting, Angela Davis began to write a series of letters to Jackson. Paul Avery (1975) explains:

“She typed out her innermost thoughts single space onto, in all, 18 pages of legal size paper. Page by page, over a period of a month, the diary-like document was smuggled out of the Marin jail and into nearby San Quentin Prison’s Adjustment Center where Jackson, Clutchette and Drumgo were being held awaiting their own trial (p.16).”

After Jackson was killed in August 1971, Angela Davis’s letters to him were discovered in his cell. During her trial, the prosecution (which had a very weak case) seized upon the discovered letters to suggest that Davis’s motive for helping Jonathan Jackson (George’s younger brother) with his lethal hostage taking incident was her love for George Jackson.

Again Avery (1975) provides some background:

“When the prosecution announced its intent to introduce the “love letters” as evidence to be read to the jury, the defense cried foul. They argued that Ms. Davis’ intimate feelings were protected by the right of privacy and immaterial to the case at hand. The State responded that her own words proved the People’s case (p.16).”

A few days after hearing excerpts from her writings to Jackson, a jury acquitted Davis on all counts. Avery writes: “In the end, all the State could prove was that Angela Davis loved George Jackson.”

The letters are incredibly moving and poignant. It’s a shame that they are not readily available for everyone to read. Below is an example of something that Davis wrote dated 7/22 (the words are offered as they appear in the magazine):

This has been a week I didn’t think I would be able to survive. Not for many month have I been so depressed. Since I received word that you had, if only tentavely, placed me in the adversary camp, so many other things around me have crumbled, but I don’t think this is an appropriate time to bother you with all the details of my troubles. You’re the only one who can bring me out of states like this, but there’s this huge thing between us. Even on this level of communication, I feel extremely uncomfortable. I don’t love you less — that’s something beyond my control. But I just can’t go on like this. Please be kind to me and let me know immediately what this whole thing is all about.

I guess I really was angry when I wrote this letter of the 16th. The anger has more or less subsided, although I essentially feel the same things I expressed in that anger; the anger has given way to this unabated depression. If someone sees you tomorrow, please send back some word. I love you, but do you feel the same as before?