The board for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) voted Friday to rescind a human rights award to activist and scholar Angela Davis after receiving complaints, according to a statement from the organization.
“Upon closer examination of Ms. Davis’ statements and public record, we concluded that she unfortunately does not meet all of the criteria on which the award is based,” the group said. It will not give the Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award to another person. Instead it cancelled this year’s ceremony and gala.
While the BCRI noted the decision to revoke the award followed complaints, it did not disclose what in Davis’s background was cause for disqualification months after she was selected for the prize. “In late December, supporters and other concerned individuals and organizations, both inside and outside of our local community, began to make requests that we reconsider our decision,” the statement said.
Birmingham’s mayor Randall Woofin called the decision “reactive.” He further said in a statement that the BCRI’s rescinded the prize after “protests from our local Jewish community and some of its allies.” The mayor’s response caught ire on social media, as one activist with IfNotNow dubbed the comment an effort to “scapegoat” the local Jewish community in Birmingham while “shielding the evangelicals from blame.”
Local Alabama outlet Al.com identified a handful of individuals who wrote letters to BCRI, citing one that opposed Davis on the grounds that she ran for president of the Communist Party ticket. Al.com reported,
Among the voices was General Charles Krulak the retired Marine Commander and former president of Birmingham-Southern College. In an email sent to BCRI board members in January 1, and obtained by Al.com, he expressed ‘sadness’ at Davis’ selection.
His feelings, though—which are somewhat diffused by his charge for members to “simply look at her Wikipedia page’—were largely supported by her Communist party membership (‘…she was twice a candidate for Vice President of the United States on the CPUSA ticket,” he wrote), her being placed on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s ’10 most wanted fugitive list’ (remember, this was J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI) and a reference to a 1972 case in which Davis was found not guilty of ‘aggravating kidnapping and first degree murder in the death of Judge Harold Haley,’ he wrote.”
A board member of the BCRI, Walter Body clarified to Al.com he “received questions from the African-American community, the Jewish community, and the white community. It was not one just community.”
Yesterday, in Birmingham local supporters of Davis protested outside of the BCRI calling for the center’s heads to resign. Activist Frank Matthews told the Associated Press,”This is the ultimate insult to deny Angela Davis her inheritance.”
In recent years Davis has increasingly been at the forefront of a growing movement of black activists in support of Palestinian rights, sharply critical of Israel and a notable endorser of the BDS movement. Davis has been outspoken on Palestinians for decades. In a 2017 interview published in the London Review of Books Davis detailed her longstanding ties to Palestinian activists (she met Yasser Arafat back in 1973) and her formative participation in a delegation to the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 2011:
“In my own political history, Palestine has always occupied a pivotal place, precisely because of the similarities between Israel and the United States—their foundational settler colonialism and their ethnic cleansing processes with respect to indigenous people, their systems of segregation, their use of legal systems to enact systematic repression, and so forth. I often point out that my consciousness of the predicament of Palestine dates back to my undergraduate years at Brandeis University, which was founded in the same year as the State of Israel. Moreover, during my own incarceration, I received support from Palestinian political prisoners as well as from Israeli attorneys defending Palestinians.”
Scholar and civil rights activist Angela Davis, born into segregated Birmingham, has had a human rights award rescinded by Birmingham Institute, in what looks like pressure from those looking to penalize her support for a boycott of Israel https://t.co/pVXrDw7k5x
— Mairav Zonszein מרב זונשיין (@MairavZ) January 7, 2019
Very disappointing that Birmingham Civil Rights Institute decided to rescind its decision to honor Angela Davis. Calling to boycott Israel for violating int’l law and human rights is not only a constitutionally protected right, but also the right thing to do. #IStandWithAngela https://t.co/pUlZQ2h3HR
— Jamil Dakwar (@jdakwar) January 6, 2019
Former CNN commentator and professor Marc Lamont Hill who was let go by CNN recently after he gave a speech calling for a “free Palestine” from “the river to the sea” wrote, “This is shameful. I stand with my dear sister and friend Angela Davis.”
Director of the ACLU’s human rights program, Jamil Dakwar, posted, “Very disappointing that Birmingham Civil Rights Institute decided to rescind its decision to honor Angela Davis. Calling to boycott Israel for violating int’l law and human rights is not only a constitutionally protected right, but also the right thing to do,” followed by the hashtag, “
Davis is one of the most admired civil rights activists whose profile has remained high since the 1960s when she was a former member of the Black Panther Party. She is also a retired professor from the University of California, Santa Cruz.