The 182nd General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. established an Emergency Fund for Legal Aid, allocating $100,000 to the fund, and placing its administration under the UPCUSA Council on Church and Race. In August 1970, Jonathan Jackson took over a Marin County California courtroom during proceedings against the Soledad Brothers. He armed the defendants, and escorted the judge and the defendants out of the building. Police responding to the scene opened fire on the group. Jackson, two Brothers, and the judge were killed, some by police weapons, some by the discharge of a sawed-off shotgun. Jackson used a shotgun owned by Angela Davis in the kidnapping, and she was charged with aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder. After two months at large, the FBI apprehended Davis in New York City. She was brought back to Marin County for trial, and initially held in solitary confinement.
As a member of the Communist Party USA, and a Black Power activist, in 95.9% white Marin County, Davis' opportunity for a fair trial was questioned. On December 22, 1970, the session of St. Andrew United Presbyterian Church (Marin City, Calif.) unanimously adopted a statement calling on authorities to guarantee a fair trial for Davis. In January and February, staff of the UPCUSA Synod of the Golden Gate responded to the session by visiting Black churchmen of the region, to gain a sense of whether emergency intervention was appropriate. On February 3, 1971, the Synod's Office of Ethnic Church Affairs (OECA) voted to endorse St. Andrew's statement, and added to it an appeal to CORAR for funds from the Emergency Fund for Legal Aid. St. Andrew was already engaged in raising funds for the legal defense locally.
On March 10, 1971, COCAR staff approved an allocation of $10,000 to Synod's Office of Ethnic Church Affairs, to be conveyed to the Angela Davis Legal Defense Fund. OECA received the check and made it payable to the fund in April 1971; it was deposited in May. COCAR's action was discussed by the Standing Committee on Church and Race at the 183rd General Assembly in Rochester, which recommended continuation of the EFLA, with $100,000 allocated annually, and instructed CORAR to "make any additional recommendations necessary as to how the Church may continue its committment to the support of equal justice for all before the law." [emphasis in original]
The Assembly adopted a statement raising "serious questions concerning the propriety of allocating $10,000 to the Marin County Black Defense Fund." In the ensuing months, the Church's action drew public scrutiny. National agency offices received thousands of responses from sessions and individuals; the majority were negative. In June of 1971, twenty Black churchmen -- Rev. Ulysses B. Blakeley, Franklin Brown, Rev. Clarence L. Cave, Dr. James H. Costen, Rev. St. Paul Epps, Dr. Bryant George, Dr. Edler G. Hawkins, Dr. Reginald Hawkins, Dr. Elo L. Henderson, Dr. Robert P. Johnson, Richard Macon, Rev. J. Oscar Mccloud, James A. McDaniel, Milton Page, Rev. Isaiah P. Pogue, Jr., Dr. Charles W. Talley, Rev. Eugene Turner, Rev. Edgar W. Ward, Yenwith K. Whitney, and Dr. Gayraud S. Wilmore -- offered $10,000 to the UPCUSA as a sign of their commitment to equal justice under the law, and "to affirm the rectitude of the Church's legal aid to Angela Davis when many white Presbyterians are willing to reject that rectitude. This predominately white church will have even less credibility in the black community if we do not perform this act."
In the last six months of 1971, more than 1300 Presbyterian churches withheld their mission giving, then known as General Assembly General Mission (GAGM), amounting to $732,000. During a meeting of staff of COCAR, the Board of National Missions, and the Board of Christian Education, moderator Lois Stair demanded the resignation of members of COCAR staff, according to the testimony of participants. Davis would be found not guilty in June of 1972. The 1972 General Assembly would affirm COCAR's actions. Gayraud Wilmore, executive director of COCAR, would leave the agency at the end of the year.
The episode is notable for congregations establishing the withholding of funds as a protest tactic against decisions of national-level bodies; for bringing scrutiny to the Emergency Fund for Legal Aid, which had already defended members of the New York Black Panthers and would later help defend indigenous activist Leonard Peltier; and as a capstone to the Presbyterian Church's engagement with Black Power.