Local activists called for leaders of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to resign Monday after the organization canceled plans to honor human rights advocate Angela Davis. The group planned to present Davis with the prestigious Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award next month.
The Civil Rights Institute announced in October it would honor Davis, a Birmingham native and prominent political scholar. The board says it rescinded the award after determining Ms. Davis’ statements and public record do not “meet all of the criteria on which the award is based.”
Davis was a member of the Black Panther and Communist parties. She was a vocal critic of the Israeli government’s policies toward Palestinians.
Davis grew up in a Birmingham community called Dynamite Hill, so named because the Ku Klux Klan frequently bombed the homes of blacks lawyers, business owners and leaders who lived there in the civil rights era.
The author of 10 books, Davis has lectured throughout the United States and in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and South America. Her works address the social problems associated with incarceration, poverty and race. In the early 1970s, she spent 18 months in jail and on trial after being placed on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted List.”
Frank Matthews, a Birmingham activist, says the BCRI disrespected Davis. He says leaders today should reflect the character, energy and activism of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a leader of the Birmingham Civil Rights movement. He called on current leadership of the institute to step down.
“We need a new director – one with some courage to stand up and not be just a silent pretty voice going for anything,” Matthews says. “She should have stood up if she meant for Angela to be here.”
In October, when the organization announced Davis as the award recipient, Andrea Taylor, president of the BCRI, said the group was thrilled to honor her.
“Arguably, she’s one of the most globally recognized champions of human rights, giving voice to those who are powerless to speak. We believe the late Reverend Shuttlesworth would also have been proud to see this award in his name bestowed upon her,” Taylor said in a prepared statement when the award presentation was initially announced.
The Civil Rights Institute president could not be reached for comment Monday. A statement on the organization’s website says the awards gala has been cancelled and tickets will be refunded.
Davis responded to the controversy late Monday, saying she asked for more substantive details on the board’s decision and learned that her long-term support of justice for Palestinians was at issue.
She says she will visit Birmingham in February to attend an alternative event.