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26 Jan, 2009 09:03

Angela Davis – American icon for the USSR

Soviet women wanted her haircut. Soviet children wrote letters begging the American president to free her. The USSR granted her the Lenin peace prize. But Americans hardly knew her name. She was Angela Davis.

She fights for the rights of women and gays in the US and was a member of the American Communist Party. Angela Davis became a celebrity and an icon in the USSR.

Or just a propaganda tool?

In 1970 Davis, involved with Black Panthers, achieved nationwide notoriety in US after her name was associated with the murder of Judge Harold Haley during an attempt to free a black convict from a court room.

The police ruled that the weapon that killed the judge belonged to Angela Davis.

In the course of an intensive manhunt lasting two months, the FBI put her on the country’s most wanted list.

However, after detention and a subsequent trial she was acquitted of all charges.

Angela Davis was so popular in the Soviet Union that thousands upon thousands of people campaigned for her freedom, signing petitions demanding her release.

Even Soviet school children joined the campaign, mailing postcards to the American President with pleas to set her free.

Shortly after her release in 1972 she toured the Soviet Union. That was when Russian writer Vitaly Korotich met her.

He says she was a useful tool for the Brezhnev government, used to bolster Communist ideals and speak out against the West during the Cold War.

“Communist country always wanted to build an image of the other side of the world to be very bad and untrustworthy,” he said. “They needed people who were from there to tell us how bad those countries are.”

Still, Davis broke away from the American Communist Party after it supported the August coup in 1991 that intended to preserve the USSR.

A professor at The University of California, Angela Davis now identifies herself as a democratic socialist. Nevertheless, her legacy still impresses young Russian Communists.

“I think what is very important is her determination for victory and that's what was a symbol to the history of the USSR,” Viktor Burinkov from the Russian Communist Workers Party said.

Davis is currently works with women’s rights movements. She also fights for the rights of prisoners and against homophobia.