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‘An attack against the spirit of the indivisibility of justice’: Angela Y. Davis statement on the cancellation of Birmingham Civil Rights Institute award

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On Saturday January 5, I was stunned to learn that the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Board of Directors had reversed their previous decision to award me the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award. Although the BCRI refused my requests to reveal the substantive reasons for this action, I later learned that my long-term support of justice for Palestine was at issue.  This seemed particularly unfortunate, given that my own freedom was secured – and indeed my life was saved – by a vast international movement. And I have devoted much of my own activism to international solidarity and, specifically, to linking struggles in other parts of the world to U.S. grassroots campaigns against police violence, the prison industrial complex, and racism more broadly.  The rescinding of this invitation was thus not primarily an attack against me but rather against the spirit of the indivisibility of justice.

I support Palestinian political prisoners just as I support current political prisoners in the Basque Country, in Catalunya, in India, and in other parts of the world. I have indeed expressed opposition to policies and practices of the state of Israel, as I express similar opposition to U.S. support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine and to other discriminatory U.S. policies.  Through my experiences at Elizabeth Irwin High School in New York City and at Brandeis University in the late fifties and early sixties, and my subsequent time in graduate school in Frankfurt, Germany, I learned to be as passionate about opposition to antisemitism as to racism. It was during this period that I was also introduced to the Palestinian cause. I am proud to have worked closely with Jewish organizations and individuals on issues of concern to all of our communities throughout my life. In many ways, this work has been integral to my growing consciousness regarding the importance of protesting the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

The trip to Birmingham, where I was born and raised, to receive the Fred Shuttlesworth Award, was certain to be the highlight of my year—especially since I knew Rev. Shuttlesworth personally and attended school with his daughter, Patricia, and because my mother, Sallye B. Davis, worked tirelessly for the BCRI during its early years.  Moreover, my most inspirational Sunday School teacher Odessa Woolfolk was the driving force for the institute’s creation. Despite the BCRI’s regrettable decision, I look forward to being in Birmingham in February for an alternative event organized by those who believe that the movement for civil rights in this moment must include a robust discussion of all of the injustices that surround us.

Angela Y. Davis

January 7, 2019

Angela Y. Davis

Angela Y. Davis is a political activist, scholar, author, and speaker. She is an outspoken advocate for the oppressed and exploited, writing on Black liberation, prison abolition, the intersections of race, gender, and class, and international solidarity with Palestine. She is the author of several books, including Women, Race, and Class and Are Prisons Obsolete? She is the subject of the acclaimed documentary Free Angela and All Political Prisoners and is distinguished professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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41 Responses

  1. bcg on January 8, 2019, 10:01 am

    Same story reported in Electronic Intifada with some interesting details:

    https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/angela-davis-latest-black-target-israel-lobby

    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.”

    • annie on January 8, 2019, 10:49 am
    • Misterioso on January 9, 2019, 8:53 am

      @beg, etal

      https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jan/08/angela-davis-stunned-rescind-civil-rights-award

      “Angela Davis ‘stunned’ by decision to rescind civil rights award,” The Guardian, Jan. 8/19

      “The veteran civil rights activist Angela Davis said she was ‘stunned’ by the decision of Alabama’s Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to revoke an award she was set to receive.

      “The institute announced in October that Davis, a Birmingham native, would receive the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights award, calling her ‘one of the most globally recognized champions of human rights, giving voice to those who are powerless to speak.’
      But last week, the organization reversed course and said she does not meet the criteria after all, in an apparent response to objections over her outspoken support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that protests against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

      “’I have devoted much of my own activism to international solidarity and, specifically, to linking struggles in other parts of the world to US grassroots campaigns against police violence, the prison industrial complex, and racism more broadly,’ Davis said in a statement on Monday night.

      “’The rescinding of this invitation and the cancellation of the event where I was scheduled to speak was thus not primarily an attack against me but rather against the very spirit of the indivisibility of justice.’

      “Davis, who was an active member of the Black Panther party, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the US communist party, said her support for Palestinian prisoners is consistent with her support for political prisoners in other parts of the world.

      “The activist said she will appear at an alternative event in Birmingham in February ‘organized by those who believe that the movement for civil rights in this moment must include a robust discussion of all of the injustices that surround us.’

      “She cited her education at Elizabeth Irwin high school in New York City and at Brandeis University in the late 50s and early 60s, and her time studying as a graduate student in Frankfurt.

      “’I learned to be as passionate about opposition to antisemitism as to racism. It was during this period that I was also introduced to the Palestinian cause,’ Davis said. ‘I am proud to have worked closely with Jewish organizations and individuals on issues of concern to all of our communities throughout my life. In many ways, this work has been integral to my growing consciousness regarding the importance of protesting the Israeli occupation of Palestine.'”

    • festus on January 9, 2019, 10:10 am

      The Lobby seems to feel safer in targeting black people, don’t they.

      The very rich Bill Cosby is in jail for rape while none of the wealthy Jews so credibly accused are in prison and neither are the other prominent white men who flew on Jeff Epstein’s Lolita Express.

      In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a male black celebrity not accused in the media and them by the justice system of sexual crimes.

  2. annie on January 8, 2019, 10:47 am

    check out this video/news reports. https://www.wvtm13.com/article/activists-protest-move-to-rescind-angela-davis-award/25783097

    Activists are calling on the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) leadership to resign. they are calling for a boycott of the institute. they sound serious! Alabama’s NAACP is not happy!

    • annie on January 8, 2019, 11:52 am

      Southern Jewish Life have published another article today covering the protest (shown in the video above) http://www.sjlmag.com/2019/01/institute-rescinds-davis-award-leading.html

      in the new article they mention the criticisms in their pervious article (without mentioning what person(s) wrote the article). they quoted part of the mayor’s statement “after protests from our local Jewish community and some of its allies.” they mention 2 people critical of giving her the award — neither are jewish. they mention bob friedman who said in the video angela davis “deserves an award” (although he didn’t say specifically this award) but interestingly, they do not mention or quote even one jewish person critical of giving davis this award. not one. that to me seems like a glaring omission, especially given they published that unsigned screed against her.

      but the black grassroots activist community is taking this very seriously:

      (my bold)

      The decision by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to rescind the Fred Shuttlesworth Award to Angela Davis and cancel the Feb. 16 awards dinner has reverberated around the world.

      …..(big gap)…

      Rev. Frank Matthews said Davis is to Shuttlesworth as Rosa Parks was to Martin Luther King, Jr., and that denying the honor was “the ultimate insult” and “recognition assassination.”

      Many past honorees received the award, Matthews said, but Davis “breathed the air of Shuttlesworth” and for her, the award is a “heritage… she is not a recipient, she is a daughter.”

      Davis knew Shuttlesworth and went to school with his daughter, Patricia.

      Carlos Chaverst said the groups will “step into protest mode.”

      He said, “Our communities are being overtaken by outside groups… there has not been one person from the black community to step up and say that Angela Davis did not need to be honored.”

      Matthews said the groups protesting used to give a Fred Shuttlesworth Flame Award, and will reconstitute it and present it to Davis on March 22, Shuttlesworth’s birthday.

      There were divergent opinions on city support for the Institute, which is $1 million annually. Some called for the city to revoke funding, while Chaverst called on the city to raise it to $2 million, to make the Institute more resistant to outside pressures. With that, Chaverst said the Institute “will be in a good place to operate and not have to worry and rely on communities like the Jewish community or any other community to fund them.”

      Chaverst said they were asking Woodfin to declare Jan. 26 as Angela Davis Day in Birmingham, in honor of her birthday. He also said they would protest and shut down events at the Institute. “We will be here until they get it right, the board members resign and justice is served.”

      In calling for the board members to resign, Matthews said the current board president, Mike Oatridge, runs the Honda plant in Alabama. Citing Pearl Harbor, he asked how the head of a Japanese company is fit to be president of the Institute while the Institute says Davis is not worthy of honor.

      Matthews said if they don’t get what they want, they are prepared to protest at the Honda and Mercedes plants, along with Coca-Cola and the Bayer Brothers. Jeffrey Bayer serves on the Institute board.

      He criticized the developer, saying they build over the mountain but “they ain’t building a damn thing in Birmingham… If you can’t invest in us, why are you sitting on a black board.”

      Matthews said “I love Birmingham. I love for it to be right. I love for the black community to be respected. I love the Jewish community, the Hispanic community and the white community,” but “when there is pernicious evil done against black people, the Hispanic community don’t come out and support us, the white people don’t come out and support the activists, the Jewish community don’t come out and support us… when we have our vigils, y’all don’t come, so don’t come to tell us who we should honor.”

      Bob “Bobby D” Friedman said he was amazed at the “politics” around giving the award to Davis, and said more questions need to be answered. “What was the pressure? Was it philosophical and ideological… which should play no role.”

      He said the controversy is putting “good people who supported the Civil Rights Institute, worked there, did research” into this mix.

      He said he is also “still looking to find out why my religion got brought into this, because someone of the same religion as me has an opinion, an economic opinion about this.

      “How many Christians have opinions that other Christians disagree with? How does it become the Christian opinion? It isn’t, it’s an individual, politics and money.”

      who is this individual friedman speaks of?? i bet Southern Jewish Life knows, but they are not saying.

  3. John Douglas on January 8, 2019, 10:59 am

    I may have contracted some of Phil’s optimism, but I think that US Zionism’s repeated attacks upon free speech in the US (and elsewhere, e.g., the UK) will be a main element in undermining their defense of the indefensible in Palestine.

  4. Jackdaw on January 8, 2019, 12:37 pm

    We will destroy the planet in twelve years, and this cretins are haggling over an Angela Davis invitation.

    https://theplanetd.com/images/easter-island-statues-field.jpg

    “We have met the enemy, and he is us”–Pogo

    • eljay on January 8, 2019, 1:02 pm

      || Jackdaw: We will destroy the planet in twelve years … ||

      Shame on “we” for anti-Semitically knocking the lifespan of the “Jewish State” from a Thousand Years! down to 12.

      • oldgeezer on January 8, 2019, 1:46 pm

        @eljay
        “We will destroy the planet in twelve years, and this cretins are haggling over an Angela Davis invitation.”

        And I’m equally surprised that jackdoh referred to the Jewish community leaders who complained about the invitation as cretins. It’s mild but still fitting.

      • amigo on January 8, 2019, 3:06 pm

        “Shame on “we” for anti-Semitically knocking the lifespan of the “Jewish State” from a Thousand Years! down to 12.” eljay

        Where did you get this 1000 year figure from.Anyone who is anyone knows the Jewish State will last forever.

    • Misterioso on January 9, 2019, 9:05 am

      @Jackdaw

      Relevance to the subject at hand? Obviously, you are losing your marbles. Better straighten up or Hasbara Central will set you adrift and you’ll have to find a real job.

  5. Boris on January 8, 2019, 5:50 pm

    I was a college student in Moscow when Angela Davis came to the Soviet Union on the invitation of its despotic Communist regime.

    She made speeches praising the regime and was a subject of many political jokes. BDS or not, for me she is just a regular political opportunist.

  6. Waterbuoy on January 8, 2019, 10:02 pm

    Soviets were very good at romancing African American visitors and giving them the experience of being accepted as a person without consideration of race or colour.
    She was young and naïve during the Soviet days rather than a political opportunist.
    I suspect that her eyes were later opened.

    • Jon66 on January 8, 2019, 11:04 pm

      “On May 1, 1979, she was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize from the Soviet Union.[50] She visited Moscow later that month to accept the prize, where she praised “the glorious name” of Lenin and the “great October Revolution”
      She was 35 at the time.

      • Misterioso on January 9, 2019, 9:56 am

        @Boris and Jon66

        Apples and oranges. As is perfectly clear, the Alabama’s Birmingham Civil Rights Institute revoked the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights award at the insistence of local influential Jewish Zionists who were motivated by Ms. Davis’s support for the BDS movement and the Palestinian Muslims and Christians in general who have suffered for over 70 years under the brutal boot of Zionism. The cancellation of the award had nothing to do with her past praise of the Soviet Union.

      • festus on January 9, 2019, 10:12 am

        Back when so many American Jews were still spying for the Soviet Union.

      • Boris on January 9, 2019, 12:45 pm

        “Back when so many American Jews were still spying for the Soviet Union.”

        In 1979???

        I think many Jews felt warm toward the USSR as it was fighting Nazi Germany. That was in the 1940’s.

        Jewish membership in the Communist party was rather high. But after Stalin’s clampdown on Jews became known, that love affair was over.

        On the other hand, Israel was established by Socialists. The Soviets supported Israel’s war of Independence with arms, while the US had an embargo…

        Labor party was a ruling party for quite some time…

    • echinococcus on January 9, 2019, 12:26 am

      Waterbuoy,

      So if I read you right, “Soviets were very good at romancing African American visitors and giving them the experience of being accepted as a person without consideration of race or colour”, i.e. even with all the defects of the late Soviet Union they still were far, far more decent than patronizing geniuses of your ilk, trying to teach Angela Davis and looking for justifications on her behalf to present to **zionist cavemen.

    • Mooser on January 9, 2019, 11:41 am

      “Soviets were very good at romancing African American visitors”

      But then the Soviets went back to being White Russians, met the Republicans and found true love.

      • Boris on January 9, 2019, 1:58 pm

        Mu-mu,

        It is funny how you interject race into this discussion without even understanding what you are typing.

        There were 2 major forces during the Russian civil – the reds and the whites. On the other hand, there is a nation of Belorussians, which literally translates as “White Russians”. So, no, Russians did not become Belorussians. However, they now romanticize the whites and think that most of the reds where Jews.

        Anyway, in relation to Angela Davis – here is another joke from my Soviet days.

        Angela Davis comes back to the US after he visit to the USSR. Someone asks here what is the most valuable thing she brought back from her trip.

        She goes into her luggage and from somewhere very deep she pulls out a portrait of Vassily Chapayev (a famous red hero of the civil war).

        “Well,-” she says – “he was the first who said ‘we will not have our freedom until we kill all the whites’ “.

        **** There are many Chapayev jokes. You really have to be Russian to understand them.

      • Mooser on January 9, 2019, 5:49 pm

        “Boris” Mine is a “very solid serious joke”.

      • Eric on January 10, 2019, 7:01 pm

        “But then the Soviets went back to being White Russians, met the Republicans and found true love.”

        Right, and after finding true love the sneaky Russkies conspired with Trump to steal the election from Clinton. That fairy tale is still fresh as a daisy, even after being flogged on CNN/MSNBC for the past 792 days and counting.

      • Mooser on January 11, 2019, 10:53 am

        ” even after being flogged on CNN/MSNBC for the past 792 days and counting.”

        The number of people willing to plead guilty to a fairy tale is a stunning testimony to the Brothers Grimm.

      • gamal on January 11, 2019, 12:25 pm

        “people willing to plead guilty to a fairy tale is a stunning testimony to the Brothers Grimm”

        It’s a problem sure but..but since they all lied many times why should I believe them now and there is a certain kind of upper-class man who craves punishment in England anyway..have you never been to Soho? After dark, don’t wear leather or you will regret it, Ostrich even worse.

  7. MHughes976 on January 9, 2019, 6:44 am

    I’’m in full disagreement with Marxism, so not in much agreement with Angela Davis, a lifelong Marxist as far as I can see. But she doesn’t deserve to be insulted publicly. Disinvitation is an insult and pressure to disinvite is intimidation, which I can’t see justified except perhaps when some very new information about a person comes to light – a reminder of lifelong and very public political commitment failing completely to qualify. I wouldn’t want this done to a lifelong Zionist. I hope that her supporters organise an alternative award and that she takes that opportunity to speak strongly and clearly about the violated rights of the Palestinians.

  8. Boris on January 9, 2019, 11:50 am

    A Communist, Fascist and Zionist are flying in a plane.

    Suddenly, God enters and offers each a wish.

    The Communist says – “wish there were no Fascists”.

    The Fascist says – “wish there were no Communists”.

    The Zionist asks God – “will you grant those wishes?”

    God says – “sure!”.

    Then the Zionist said – “well, in this case I will have a cup of coffee”…

    • Talkback on January 9, 2019, 1:50 pm

      Then the Zionist said – “well, in this case my wish is that rest of the Nonjews in hist. Palestine are expelled to maintain a Jewish majority” …

    • amigo on January 9, 2019, 3:12 pm

      “Then the Zionist said – “well, in this case I will have a cup of coffee”…”.

      And God says , “April Fool, I am an ISIS operative –and I am going to grant all three of your wishes.

  9. Ossinev on January 9, 2019, 1:56 pm

    @Boris
    Then the Zionist said – “well, in this case I will have a cup of coffee”…
    ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????
    Sorry sunshine but I have read this post multiple times and cannot find the remotest trace of a joke or any kind of punchline.

    Have a look at this instead for some future inspiration:
    http://www.thehypertexts.com/Best%20Zionist%20Jokes.htm

    • Boris on January 9, 2019, 5:24 pm

      Thses are very solid serious jokes!

      • echinococcus on January 10, 2019, 1:00 pm

        Tovarischtsch Boris,

        From the mouth of f–[censored]! You are absolutely right: there isn’t a single one that is not 1,000% true. These jokes deserve repeating ad nauseam. Your nausea, that is.

      • Mooser on January 10, 2019, 6:12 pm

        “Thses are very solid serious jokes!” “Boris”

        Great Scott on a Pogo stick. There’s but a dozen years left, before we are all extirpated in an excess of man-made effulgence, and “Boris” is laughing at jokes, already!

        A nihilist, that’s what he is.
        And what state would harbor a nihilist? A state in denial, of course.

    • AnthonyH on January 10, 2019, 10:29 am

      I confess that I am a JC fan and loved Life of Brian BUT had no idea that THEY had managed to desecrate these sacred works. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

  10. hophmi on January 9, 2019, 3:04 pm

    Why does anyone care about someone who spent years as a Western poster child for the worst Communist regimes?

    • Keith on January 9, 2019, 6:20 pm

      HOPHMI- “Why does anyone care about someone who spent years as a Western poster child for the worst Communist regimes?”

      Better her than a mean-spirited neo-liberal like you. Your soul mates did a real number on Yeltsin’s Russia. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7HwvFyMg7A

      • Eric on January 10, 2019, 7:51 pm

        Yeltsin (ie, “our man in Moscow”) was a tool of the West and greatly enriched the Wall Street criminals who subsequently pulled the plug on Russia and caused their debt default in 1998. Yeltsin’s “rep fees” amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars and his daughter is one of the wealthiest women in Russia. Can’t entirely blame the men behind the curtain when bad things happen; they’d never get to first base without willing, treasonous accomplices. Just ask the majority of US Congressmen and Senators who regularly put the interests of a foreign country before their own.

    • Eric on January 10, 2019, 7:33 pm

      Ask the Zionist community in Birmingham, hophmi. Apparently they care.

  11. Mooser on January 9, 2019, 6:35 pm

    “Why does anyone care about someone who spent years as a Western poster child for the worst Communist regimes?”

    “Hophmi” do you think she has a dual-loyalty problem?

  12. tomgoldberg on January 11, 2019, 9:09 am

    The irony here, of course, is that Prof. Davis is the mirror image of liberal Zionists, who also all too often feel the need to rationalize the crimes of the regime with which they are ideologically aligned.

    Most liberal Zionists oppose discrimination wherever they see it (good), except within Israel (hypocritical.)

    Davis says she’s been fighting for political prisoners around the world all her life (good), except in the Stalinist regimes she happily celebrated (just as hypocritical.)

    So Davis unintentionally exposes liberal Zionists’ hypocrisy. No wonder they hate her.

    Having said that, she should get the award, but she also should denounce Stalinism a LOT more forcefully than she has (at least to my knowledge; send links if you know of other evidence.)

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