Will any of these students, born in the 1990s, know who Angela Davis is? Will they participate in the lecture at Roma Tre University? Will they be curious to know who is this woman, who was already a legend for us in the ‘60s and ‘70s? As I was arriving, I feared that too few people might turn up to listen to her. I was reminded of the polls that tell us no one knows who Enrico Berlinguer (the Italian communist) was and that many people believe the United States and Germany won the Second World War.
I was so wrong. The university’s immense assembly hall was packed on Monday. Dozens stood on their feet or sat on the ground. Important political leaders are one thing, but legends are something else — that’s why they show up printed on T-shirts around the world. Davis is one of them: beautiful, black, intelligent, brave, a fighter for the Black Panther Party, confident and, above all, a communist. She was a victim of the most awful racism. It drove her to jail, accused of murder without any evidence. She was freed after two years thanks to one of the largest mobilizations of 1968. Not many people have songs about them by famous musicians: Davis has “Sweet Black Angel” by the Rolling Stones and “Angela” by John Lennon, to name just a couple.
Today her iconic afro worn as an ensign is graying — she is 73 years old — but she still has moxie. The hundreds of people in the room, among them students and a number of militant feminists, could barely control their emotions. They only wanted to listen to her, and they did not care one bit about what we, the other guests invited to the stage, would say. They didn’t want to waste an opportunity to hear her speak, and this was understandable. So the scheduled program was quickly discarded. It became a question-and-answer session with a long line to the microphone. Only a few succeeded in asking questions, almost all of them black Italians, and an amazing Kurdish girl who was greeted by loud applause.
Naturally, Davis speaks in English, and there is no translation. But to my amazement, I discover that everyone in the audience follows her speech, applauding and laughing at the right moments. She tells us how racism still exists, not only in America, but everywhere. “Here in Europe, only now, with the refugees, you are coming to terms with your colonialism,” she said. She dwelled for a long time on Palestinians affected by the most indecent racism. (“But in our cities,” she said, “those who burn black churches, also burn synagogues.”)