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Influenced by her segregated upbringing in Birmingham, Alabama, Davis joined the Black Panthers and an all-Black branch of the Communist Party as a young woman. She became a professor at UCLA, but fell out of favor with the administration due to her ties. Davis was charged with aiding the botched escape attempt of imprisoned Black radical George Jackson, and served roughly 18 months in jail before her acquittal in 1972. After spending time traveling and lecturing, Davis returned to the classroom as a professor and authored several books.