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Birmingham civil rights institute votes to give award to Angela Davis after all

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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.

Mondoweiss Editors

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28 Responses

  1. Dan From Away on January 25, 2019, 2:58 pm

    Is it time to launch a #MeToo_antisemitic_smear campaign?

  2. brent on January 25, 2019, 11:02 pm

    Here is evidence the Israel first-ers overstepped, resulting in a reversal. In my judgment, they have gone “all out” in the past to deny any success to their opposition on the premise “a success breeds success”. They are likely quite worried about the implications.

    Another overplay, or primary victory could be Senate Bill 1 to limit freedom and First Amendment rights Americans have enjoyed in the past. Now that the shutdown has ended SB1 is on the agenda in the Senate. Those interested in bringing justice to Palestinians and retaining their rights as Americans will do well to let their Senators both hear support for SB1 will be crossing a red line.

    To add extra oomph to the effort one could contact NPR phone comment line, 202-216-9217 and/or the Ombudsman 202- 513-3246 and point out SB1 is highly relevant news and request NPR News report on it.

    • genesto on January 28, 2019, 1:27 pm

      It’s in the Zionist DNA to overreach. Negotiating with non and anti Zionists is out of the question because, in the Zionist mind, this shows weakness and weakness insures defeat. The good news is that, because of this overreach, it’s inevitable that opposition like we saw in Birmingham will arise and spread. The demise of Zionism will be the inevitable outcome.

  3. annie on January 26, 2019, 7:48 am

    glad to see they came to their senses. i hope some people learned some lessons.

    congratulations to Angela Davis!

    • gamal on January 26, 2019, 8:21 am

      “i hope some people learned some lessons”

      And in the meantime Zionists are reducing anti-semitism to an Israeli version of the Anti-Americanism slur, I have never liked terms like Islamophobia etc not only can all of these ‘ideologies’ or ideology be sufficiently described as racism but the class prejudice that is encoded within our societies operates absolutely just like racism with all of the catastrophic outcomes it makes me feel warm and brotherly towards classes, as clearly we are all in some pretty serious shit, we don’t even know, i certainly don’t, how to learn, except that in a ‘transactional’ environment it makes sense to be natural rather than adapted.

      • annie on January 26, 2019, 9:11 am

        in a ‘transactional’ environment it makes sense to be natural rather than adapted.

        gamal, what does this part mean? it’s a long sentence, i was with you till the last word. do you mean adapting the definition of racism against one ethnic group to protect a regime, a state, or a racist political construct?

      • gamal on January 26, 2019, 9:38 am

        sorry transactional analysis Eric Berne “The Games People Play”, the adapted child and the natural child, this is a simple schematic etc which gives an idea of what this approach to the human experience involves

        it’s not great but others don’t want to load, the very basics are there.

      • gamal on January 26, 2019, 10:24 am

        “racism against one ethnic group to protect a regime”

        I am becoming terminally allusive and nebulous, but yes by adapted child I mean the unconscious adoption of whatever the prevailing ideology of the state/society, if may use that term in its broadest sense, says, just because there is no meaning without ideology, broadly, it is still both unnecessary and ill-advised to be trapped by any one into convictions that are upon examination absurd or at least dubious and pernicious in effect. I think that is what I meant.

      • annie on January 26, 2019, 3:27 pm

        thank you gamal, and for the link too.

      • Mooser on January 26, 2019, 12:02 pm

        ” i hope some people learned some lessons.”

        Yes, it’s time Americans learned that a matzoh can be just a half-baked cracker.

    • genesto on January 28, 2019, 1:32 pm

      The only lesson the Zionists learned is to be more clever, to make sure to cover all bases, the next time they set out to destroy the career of a person with the stature of Angela Davis. I’m sure there is already a spirited, behind-the-scenes discussion of this within the Zionist leadership and brain trust. For them, this is a never-ending battle that they MUST win to survive.

      • chocopie on January 28, 2019, 10:02 pm

        They also learned that even when they overstep and go too far, someone will always be there to make excuses for them, candy coat their actions, and otherwise shield them from public scrutiny. Let’s have a full accounting of all the emails, calls, and meetings that went into the initial pressure to rescind the award. The people and organizations who pushed to have Angela Davis’ award rescinded should be fully exposed. Even after re-instating the award, the BCRI is talking in circles trying to shield the very people who got them into this mess in the first place.

      • echinococcus on January 29, 2019, 1:07 am

        ” Let’s have a full accounting of all the emails, calls, and meetings that went into the initial pressure to rescind the award.”

        Those who put on the so-called pressure are only doing their job. It’s those who cave to the “pressure” who should be censured.

        Besides, “pressure” is no good here for a metaphor. There’s no pressure, only words. If there were threats involving people’s jobs, livelihood, etc. we must know it and respond adequately. If there were no threats, we must know that, too.

      • annie on January 29, 2019, 3:57 pm

        genesto, here’s some lessons that can be learned, which segue w/alexander’s nyt op-ed. speak up fast, don’t let yourself get bullied into silence. don’t worry about being accused of anti semitism. not only people around the country loudly lambasting the move but the local community coming out in force as they did to defend davis and call out where this attack came from. the mayor very publicly coming out and naming where this attack came from.. that was immensely helpful.

        sure, zionist power structure may get more clever, but they’ve been outed before and they can be outed again.

  4. Tom Suarez on January 26, 2019, 8:10 am

    Ms. Davis should demand that this award is offered to her not “despite” her stance on Israel-Palestine, but that her positions on human rights in Palestine is inseparable from her human rights work for which the award is being (re-)offered to her.

  5. Misterioso on January 26, 2019, 9:26 am


    “What You Can’t Say About Israel (with Marc Lamont Hill)”

    The Intercept, January 24 2019

    “There are signs that U.S. opinion might be shifting on Israel and its illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories. Democrats and younger U.S. voters, including young Jewish voters, are shifting to a more pro-Palestine position, according to recent polls. There are now two members of Congress — Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar — who openly support the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement against Israel. At the same time, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Alabama, under pressure from local pro-Israeli Jewish groups, recently rescinded a human rights award [since restored] they’d bestowed on civil rights icon Angela Davis because of her support for BDS. In November, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill was fired from CNN because he gave a speech at the UN calling for a free Palestine ‘from the river to the sea.’ On this week’s Deconstructed podcast, Lamont Hill and Mehdi Hasan discuss the de facto censorship that surrounds discussions of Israel in the U.S. The two are joined by Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace.”

    • annie on January 26, 2019, 9:41 am

      i listened to that interview. hill said the “tide was turning”. lara friedman was also interviewed. she said israel is held to a lower standard if calling for democracy from the river to the sea is considered anti semitic.

  6. Misterioso on January 26, 2019, 10:45 am


    Also, a must read:

    “Michelle Alexander Is Right About Israel-Palestine” By Marjorie Cohn, Truthout, Jan. 25/19

    [“Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace.”]

    “As a progressive Jew, I find that many of my family members and friends are still what we call ‘PEP’ — progressive except Palestine. Amid ever-worsening injustices created by the Israeli system of apartheid and Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian lands, it is past time for this to change.

    “I am hopeful that the firestorm sparked by Michelle Alexander’s recent New York Times column, ‘Time to Break the Silence on Palestine,’ will finally generate the heat necessary to force more people and groups on the left to overcome the fundamental hypocrisy of the ‘progressive except Palestine’ approach.

    “I was deeply inspired by Alexander’s column and her decision to speak so honestly about the difficulty of overcoming the fear of backlash over taking a public stand against the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

    “Striking a comparison between the risk taken by prominent critics of Israel and the risk Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took by publicly criticizing the Vietnam War, Alexander observes, ‘Those who speak publicly in support of the liberation of the Palestinian people still risk condemnation and backlash.’

    “Invoking Dr. King’s exhortation that ‘a time comes when silence is betrayal,’ Alexander reflects on ‘the excuses and rationalizations that have kept me largely silent on one of the great moral challenges of our time: the crisis in Israel-Palestine.’

    “Alexander’s words resonated with me, a Jew who uncritically supported Israel for many years until I saw the parallels between US policy in Vietnam and Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. My activism and critical writings have followed a trajectory from Vietnam to South Africa to Israel to Iraq to Afghanistan and other countries where the United States continues its imperial military actions.”

    “In 1977, the NLG sent a delegation to Israel and Palestine. The report they issued was the first comprehensive analysis of Israel’s practices published by a non-governmental organization dedicated to the protection of human rights. It documented violations of the 1949 Geneva Conventions by Israel as a belligerent occupant of the West Bank and Gaza.

    “The allegations in the report disturbed me greatly. They described Israel’s mistreatment of the Palestinians, including house demolitions, administrative detention and torture. The report documented beatings, burning with cigarettes, forced standing while naked for long periods exposed to heat or cold, dousing with hot or cold water, cutting the body with razor blades, biting by dogs, sensory deprivation, sodomizing with bottles or sticks, inserting wires into the penis, electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body, and suspension from the floor with hands or feet tied to a pulley device. Reading the case studies made me physically ill.”

    “On July 19, 2018, the Israeli Knesset passed a law that illegally enshrines a system of apartheid. The legislation, which has the force of a constitutional amendment, says, ‘The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, in which it fulfills its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination.’ It continues, ‘The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.’ There is no guarantee of self-determination for the 1.8 million Arabs who make up 20 percent of Israel’s population.”

    “Israel continues to attack Gaza, described as the world’s largest ‘open air prison’ as Israel maintains a tight blockade, restricting all ingress and egress. Headlines in the mainstream media falsely portray an equivalence of firepower between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza. But Israel’s use of force greatly exceeds that of the Palestinians, and the asymmetric warfare continues to escalate.”

    • CigarGod on January 27, 2019, 12:34 pm

      Thanks for the ghastly post, Misterioso,
      I’m sure The Land of IZ will say all those 1977 era torture practices are no longer used. I’m sure they have innovated…

      I have often used the term “worlds largest open air prison,” too.
      Seeing it used again…I looked up the largest prisons. Rikers Island tops the list at about 11,000.

      I think saying “open air” might minimize the definition of prison. The Worlds Largest Prison, practically owned and controlled by Israel, who also run The Worlds Largest Torture Chambers…offsite…somewhere in Israel proper.

      Yep…that might describe reality more accurately.

  7. Kathleen on January 28, 2019, 11:26 am

    The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute freeing themselves from the concerted effort by the Israel lobby to change their original decision to give Angela Davis her much deserved human rights award.


  8. hophmi on January 28, 2019, 11:39 am

    Was reporting clear on how Davis referred to Soviet refuseniks as Zionist fascists?

    Angela Davis is not a person who deserves a human rights award now or ever, and history will be unkind to those who whitewashed her past advocacy of autocracy and violence.

    • Talkback on January 28, 2019, 1:16 pm

      Tell us hophmi. Which Zionist deserves a human rights award? Would that be even possible?

    • Mooser on January 28, 2019, 1:58 pm

      You tell ’em, “Hophmi”. It’s not everybody who can offer rent-a-victim service to right-wing causes.

      “In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Republican Party of Harris County, Texas, published a post blaming the genocide of European Jews during the Third Reich on leftism, reports the Houston Chronicle.”

      “Leftism kills,” “In memory of the 6 million Jews lost to Nazi hatred in the name of National Socialism. We will never forget.”

      • eljay on January 28, 2019, 2:32 pm

        || Mooser: You tell ’em, “Hophmi”. It’s not everybody who can offer rent-a-victim service to right-wing causes. … ||

        … The Anti-Defamation League weighed in with history lesson.

        “The Holocaust should never be used for political purposes,” wrote spokeswoman Dena Marks in a statement to the Chronicle. …

        And yet Zionists use it that way all the time. This is just one recent example:
        ‘NYT’ editor hails Jewish community for ‘maintaining political support for Israel’

  9. genesto on January 28, 2019, 1:37 pm

    No, hophmi, history will be unkind to people like you who continued to turn their backs on the evils of Zionism long after it became so evident to those with eyes, ears – and hearts!

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