The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute has now gone full circle: It announced that it has voted to give its human rights award to Angela Davis after all!
The Institute originally decided to give the scholar and activist the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award last December. Then on January 4, reportedly under pressure from Jewish groups because of Davis’s support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) targeting Israel, the Institute voted to rescind the award and cancel the gala at which she was to be honored. It had no idea what was coming. The institute suffered a nationwide onslaught of criticism for its cowardice, as well as outrage from the Birmingham city council and school board and mayor. Three board members of the BCRI resigned, and the institute apologized for “missteps” on January 14. Meanwhile, plans were announced for Davis to receive an honor from her native city on the same day as the canceled BCRI gala.
Well, today the last shoe dropped. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute announced that it voted — evidently a week or ten days ago– to “reaffirm Dr. Davis as the recipient” of the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award.
“Dr. Davis was immediately thereafter personally invited to reaccept the award.”
There is no word right now as to Angela Davis’s plans.
More from that statement:
Immediately after that public apology [of January 14], in keeping with its commitment to learning from its mistakes and in order to stay true to the BCRI’s founding mission, the Board voted to reaffirm Dr. Davis as the recipient…. The BCRI respects her privacy and timing in whatever her response may ultimately be.
At the BCRI’s founding, the basic purposes of the Institute were to “focus on what happened in the past, to portray it realistically and interestingly, and to understand it in relationship to the present and future development of human relations in Birmingham, the United States, and perhaps the world.”
“Dr. Angela Davis, a daughter of Birmingham, is highly regarded throughout the world as a human rights activist,” said BCRI President and CEO Andrea L. Taylor. “In fact, the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study acquired her personal archives in 2018, recognizing her significance in the movement for human rights, her involvement in raising issues of feminism, as well as her leadership in the campaign against mass incarceration. Her credentials in championing human rights are noteworthy,” she said.
Reverend Thomas L. Wilder, interim BCRI Board Chair, said “at the end of the day, we stand for open and honest dialogue on issues. It is only through our ability to talk openly and honestly with one another that we can achieve true understanding and appreciation for one another’s perspectives…
“We ask everyone to partner with us to rebuild trust in the Institute and its important work,” Wilder said.
In an official “chronology” of the decision, the BCRI never mentions Jewish groups or Angela Davis’s stance on Palestine. Just this on the runup to the Jan. 4 vote to withdraw the award:
[B]oard members reported on discussions they had with various members of the community that expressed opposition towards giving Dr. Davis the award due to her lack of vocal opposition to violence.
Though reporting has been clear on that causality. EI:
Roy S. Johnson, a columnist for several Alabama newspapers, revealed Monday that those demanding the cancellation were “primarily – though not exclusively – from the city’s Jewish leadership, according to a source familiar with a decision that transpired quickly, and stunningly, in a span of just a few days.”
Last month, Southern Jewish Life, a communal publication serving southern states, ran an article criticizing the BCRI for honoring Davis, claiming that she is “an outspoken voice in the boycott-Israel movement, and advocates extensively on college campuses for the isolation of the Jewish state, saying Israel engages in ethnic cleansing and is connected to police violence against African Americans in the United States.”
Roy Johnson later wrote:
It [BCRI] caved to voices clearly uncomfortable with aspects of Davis’ widely known revolutionary past, which includes membership in the Black Panther and Communist parties and, most recently, support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) against Israel.