She's married now. And her towering Afro that used to bedazzle -- or intimidate -- has shrunk.
And although she's now 36 years old, in many ways she's the same Angela Davis whose name was a rallying cry for political militants and prisoners in the early '70s. Now Davis is running for vice president on the Communist Party, U.S.A. ticket and speaking out against high unemployment, racism and the Pentagon budget --and denouncing Carter, Reagan and Anderson as puppets of the corporate world.
Rhetoric she has aplenty, but there's something personally impelling beneath the sloganeering, the Marxist cliches, the hard, cold talk of wage and price guidelines, crime statistics and unemployment data. She moves with a gentleness and grace not associated with a political revolutionary, more with an artist. She sometimes flashes a soft smile even when quoting the driest facts. And people respond. She remains a personal and political symbol for many of radical intellectual discontent.
Saturday night at a political rally at Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, a stop on the Underground Railroad for runaway slaves more than a century ago, the racially mixed crowd of 500 -- young and middleaged -- stood in unison and applauded loudly when Davis rose to speak. With a high-pitched voice, she's an effective but not overpowering public speaker.
In the early '70s, the cry was "Free Angela." She was accused of kidnaping, murder and conspiracy in connection with a 1970 shootout at the Marin County (Calif.) Courthouse. For 14 months she was held without bail. Protest marches were staged in Ceylon and Paris, Havana and New York City. Eventually, she was released on $102,000 bond. After a 3 1/2-month trial, she was acquitted. Davis had become a world political symbol (she was already a national cause celebre after then-governor Ronald Reagan led a fight against renewing her appointment as a philosophy professor at UCLA because of her Communist Party membership).
What's it like being a symbol?
"At first, it was difficult," she said. "The symbol that people created is not me. A symbol represents the collective hopes and aspirations of many, many people. I came to the conclusion that that symbol was important and certainly not something I can possibly live up to as an individual.
"At the same time I have contributions to make and I have to attempt to make those contributions to the best of my ability."
Davis is eating breakfast at Harambee House. A vegetarian (making exception, however, for seafood and fowl), she dines only on two slices of toast, a soft boiled egg and coffee.
"It's most important for me to project that I'm just another human being," she says. "If people looked to me as someone that relates to their own lives, it becomes more difficult to involve those people in the struggle. I'm someone who came out of the '70s who was affected by racism and made a commitment and carried the commitment out. And millions of other people can do the same."
Right now she's devoting herself to an admittedly losing political cause -- at least in the short run. So why does she run for vice president as a Communist?
"Regardless of who wins," she says earnestly, "the people in this country are going to lose. This time it's important that the people have the opportunity to give expression to their needs and aspirations in the electoral arena."
Dressed in (nondesigner) jeans, high black leather boots and a red and black sweater emblazoned with the Communist Party campaign slogan, "People Before Profits," the 5-foot-10 1/2 Davis is preparing to return to San Francisco. She and her new husband, 36-year-old Hilton Braithwaite, a chef and photographer, live in Oakland. She teaches in the school of ethnic studies and the women's studies program at San Francisco State University.
"It is 10 years since my case began," she recalled. "A whole generation of young people who didn't go through the experience of my trial and publicity come out to the rallies. All kinds, all ages of people come out.
"That has less to do with me as an individual," she insists, "than people seriously and honestly seeking a radical analysis of what's happening in society."