UCLA

100 Ways: Arts & Letters

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Published May 10, 2019 3:20 PM


A Test of Freedom

Angela Davis


In 1968, shortly after Charles E. Young became UCLA chancellor, he unveiled a plan to hire more minority faculty. One of his recruits was a 25-year-old African-American scholar, Angela Davis, who joined UCLA’s Department of Philosophy. In April 1969, UCLA offered Davis a one-year appointment with the possibility of renewal for another year. However, when the UC Regents learned that she was a member of the Communist Party, they tried to fire her.

The next quarter, the university allowed her to teach a noncredit course only, and the Academic Senate asked the faculty to withhold grades from students in support of Davis until she could teach for credit. David Kaplan ’56, Ph.D. ’64, who was vice chairman of the philosophy department, said, “The attempt to dismiss her on the sole basis of her political affiliations is a direct violation of her academic freedom.”


Angela Davis.

Credit for Davis’ course was restored, but the regents, led by Governor Ronald Reagan, appealed. Reagan vowed she would never again teach in the UC system, yet she went on to earn tenure at UC Santa Cruz, where she remained for 17 years.

Davis, now 75, has inspired generations. For example, Stephanie Younger, a black student activist who advocates for STEAM diversity, youth prison abolition and nonviolence, says Davis’ advocacy for prison abolition “inspired me to do the same for my community.”

Younger helped create Angela Davis’ Black Girl Coalition, which makes learning skills like conflict resolution accessible to black female students in marginalized communities. Hearing Davis speak, Younger says, served as an “affirmation to young and socially conscious black people who are willing to be a voice in the community that we will inherit.”


For the Greater Good

Public Servants

Tom Bradley, first African-American mayor of Los Angeles

The son of sharecroppers and the grandson of slaves, Tom Bradley helped build an ethos for Angelenos: We are better united than divided. In 1937, Bradley was one of 55 black students out of a total 4,000 at UCLA. After college, he rose through the ranks of the Los Angeles Police Department and became the first African American elected a Los Angeles city councilman and then mayor, in which role he oversaw the birth of commercial centers, a light-rail system and a burgeoning downtown skyline.

Judy Chu, first Chinese-American woman elected to Congress

Judy Chu ’74 started “harmony days” in Monterey Park, where she sat on the school board in the early 1980s, in response to divisions resulting from a recent influx of immigrants from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Along with her husband, Mike Eng J.D. ’74 — whom she met while both were undergraduates at UCLA — she declared “harmony days,” celebrating the San Gabriel Valley city’s diverse cultures. From city council to the California Assembly, and now in Congress, Chu has worked diligently to serve the needs of her constituents.


Antonio Villaraigosa.

Antonio Villaraigosa, first modern-day Latino mayor of L.A.

After spending time reading in the UCLA library while waiting for a friend, Antonio Villaraigosa ’77, a high school dropout, set his sights on UCLA for college. On campus, he led demonstrations to end the Vietnam War and to advocate for ethnic studies, farmworkers’ rights and women and minority students. As speaker of the California Assembly, city council member and eventually mayor, he reduced crime to historic lows. He turned around 18 low-performing schools. Today, he is fighting for better public schools and immigrants’ rights across the state.

Henry Waxman, author of the Affordable Care Act

Henry Waxman ’61, J.D. ’64 joined the Young Democrats when he arrived at UCLA. After school and time as a lawyer, he began a career in public service, representing L.A.’s Westside in Congress for 40 years. Waxman saw U.S. dependence on foreign oil as a national security concern, and he authored legislation for cleaner air, safer drinking water and lead contamination control. He forced tobacco executives to swear under oath that nicotine was not addictive, and he held powerful British Petroleum executives accountable for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Under President Obama, he was a leader in drafting and negotiating the passage of the Affordable Care Act.


Henry Waxman.

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