Social activist Angela Davis has been many things in her life. A former member of the Communist Party U.S.A. and one-time vice presidential candidate for that party’s national ticket, Davis rose to prominence as a far-left radical activist who traveled to Europe to cavort with official Communist groups during the tense days of the Cold War. But perhaps the most controversial event in her past is when she served as the straw purchaser for three guns that were later used to murder a judge and battle with police in a fatal California shootout.
Davis is slated to headline a Lawrence University MLK Day celebration on January 18, 2016. The Appleton, Wisconsin university doesn’t list Davis as a guest for the event on their official calendar, but the Appleton Post-Crescent and Fox11 have both reported that Davis is coming at the school’s request.
An emeritus professor at the University of California Santa Cruz, Davis proudly boasts in her official biography that her presence as a faculty member at the school was strongly opposed by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan (R). “Former California Governor Ronald Reagan once vowed that Angela Davis would never again teach in the University of California system,” her entry reads.
While her membership in the Communist Party is arguably interesting, what is more remarkable is that Lawrence University would invite a known straw gun purchaser to speak on campus as the nation debates how to deal with mass shootings and gun violence.
On August 17, 1970, Judge Harold J. Haley of San Rafael, California and three other men were killed in a shootout with police. The three men, who were supplied by Davis with weapons for their plot, had kidnapped Haley. An Associated Press story from the time details Davis’ role in the violence as the one who purchased the guns and passed them to the plotters.
“A sawed-off shotgun . . . which later was used to kill him [Judge Haley], is the one identified as the weapon Miss Davis purchased, [US Attorney] Lader said. She has also been named as the buyer of two other guns used in the shootings, he added.”
The subsequent hunt for the fugitive Davis landed her on the FBI’s most wanted list. Authorities in New York apprehended her in October of 1970. A New York Times story about her arrest explained, “Although the authorities were unwilling to give the details of their case against the former college philosophy instructor, she was reported to have purchased a 12-gauge single- barrel shotgun that was used to kill Superior Court Judge Harold J. Haley in a courthouse gun battle last Aug. 7.”
The paper added that, “Miss Davis was charged under a California law that makes an accomplice equally guilty for having purchased the guns used.”
When an individual purchases a gun for the use of someone else, particularly someone who might be prohibited from owning a firearm or intends to use that weapon in a crime, the buyer is known as a “straw purchaser.”
Shane Nyman of the Post-Crescent first reported that Davis was coming to Lawrence University next month, but he refused to mention anything about Davis’ ties to the Communist Party USA or her unashamed purchasing of dangerous guns for use in a crime. For its part, Fox11 also failed to mention the academic’s ties to radical groups or that she was a straw gun purchaser, and downplaying “her alleged involvement in an incident in which a judge and three other men were killed at a courthouse in California.”
Davis has spoken at least once before at Lawrence University; a photo in the school’s online archive purports to show the audience at a speech she delivered there in 1976.