Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Board Leaders Resign Over Award Controversy

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Visitors line up on Martin Luther King Day in 2018 to view experience the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

Sherrel Wheeler Stewart, WBHM

Board leaders for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute stepped down today following days of controversy over a decision to cancel a prestigious award presentation to noted scholar and activist Angela Davis.

Chairman Mike Oatridge, Vice Chairman Walter Body, and Secretary Janice Kelsey in a prepared statement said: “As members of this board, we regret the circumstances surrounding the selection process regarding the 2018 Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award and the dissension this has caused. “

In October, the board announced Davis would be presented the award honoring the legacy of the civil rights leader. Saturday, the board said the award was being rescinded. That move was prompted by concerns over some of Davis’ previous statements and questions about whether she met the criteria for the award, according to the board statement.

The story attracted national attention on social media. Locally activists called for BCRI leaders to step down.

The resigning board members said: “It is hoped this move will enable the City of Birmingham to create a board structure that will best enable the BCRI to continue its critical mission in the future. We are happy to lend any assistance that may be needed on an interim basis to ensure a smooth transition.”

Activists called for board resignations at a Monday press conference.

Wednesday Frank Matthews of the Outcast Voters League said he is pleased with the announced board resignations. He’s asking that longtime civic leader Odessa Woolfolk be named interim board chair for the Institute.

Mayor Randall Woodfin has said the controversy could have been handled differently. He did not respond to requests for comment on the board resignations.

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