Trauma and Memory
July 15, 2008 - 4:10am ET
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I just read a blog post that pointed out—correctly, I think—that the cultural referent for the depiction of Michelle in the infamous Barack Obama New Yorker cover is Angela Davis. The gun, the afro, the combat boots: it may be useful to remind people of just how hot burn the semiotic flames the illustrator is blithely toying with. What was the accusation that made Angela Davis famous? (Merely an accusation; she was acquitted.)
During the summer of 1970, Davis had become involved in Black Panther efforts to garner support for the imprisoned George Jackson, Fleeta Drumgo, and John Clutchette, known as the "Soledad brothers" (after Soledad Prison, where they were incarcerated). On August 7, George's brother, 17-year-old Jonathan Jackson, along with two others, disrupted trial proceedings in an attempt to assist the escape of friend James McClain from the Marin County Hall of Justice. McClain was on trial for an alleged attempt to stab an officer. In the courthouse, the three stood up from their seats and, at gunpoint, directed everyone to freeze. They then led the judge, the prosecuting attorney, and several jurors into a van parked outside. As the hostages entered the van, Jackson and the others were reported to have shouted, "We want the Soledad Brothers freed by 12:30 today!". During the escape attempt, Jackson and accomplice William Christmas were killed in a shootout with police. Judge Harold Haley was killed by his captors with a shotgun taped to his throat inside the van. Prosecutor Gary Thomas was paralyzed by a police bullet during the incident.
A shotgun used by the escapees was registered in Davis's name, implicating her in the escape attempt. The California warrant issued for Davis charged her as an accomplice to conspiracy, kidnapping, and homicide. On August 18, 1970, Davis became the third woman and the 309th individual to appear on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List.
Just, you know, like Michelle!
UPDATE: A Commenter usefully points out: "As you didn't say clearly enough, any comparison between Michelle Obama & Angela Davis is hideously unfair to Michelle, & just plain wrong. Sometimes, we have to answer these accusations in small words, & big block letters, no matter who makes them & why, so that no one has an excuse for not understanding the truth of the matter."
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