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As a Girl Scout, she marched and picketed to protest racial segregation in Birmingham.
By her junior year in high school, Davis had applied to and was accepted at an American Friends Service Committee (Quaker) program that placed black students from the South in integrated schools in the North.
As a result of purchasing firearms used in the 1970 armed take-over of a Marin County, California courtroom, in which four persons were killed, she was prosecuted for conspiracy. Her research interests are feminism, African-American studies, critical theory, Marxism, popular music, social consciousness, and the philosophy and history of punishment and prisons.
She co-founded Critical Resistance, an organization working to abolish the prison–industrial complex.
Consequently, Davis grew up surrounded by communist organizers and thinkers who significantly influenced her intellectual development.
Davis was involved in her church youth group as a child, and attended Sunday school regularly.
Although moved by Carmichael's rhetoric, she was reportedly disappointed by her colleagues' black nationalist sentiments and their rejection of communism as a "white man's thing." She joined the Che-Lumumba Club, an all-black branch of the Communist Party USA, named for international Communist sympathizers and leaders Che Guevara and Patrice Lumumba, of Cuba and the Congo, respectively.
During this time, Davis' mother, Sallye Bell Davis, was a national officer and leading organizer of the Southern Negro Youth Congress, an organization influenced by the Communist Party, trying to build alliances among African Americans in the South.
During her second year at Brandeis, Davis decided to major in French and continued her intensive study of philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre.
Davis was accepted by the Hamilton College Junior Year in France Program.
In Germany, with a stipend of 0 a month, she first lived with a German family.
Later, she moved with a group of students into a loft in an old factory.
Davis's membership in the CPUSA led California Governor Ronald Reagan in 1969 to attempt to have her barred from teaching at any university in the State of California.