Civil Rights Institute Reverses Decision on Angela Davis Award Again

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The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute will award Birmingham native Angela Davis its 2018 Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award — again. Friday’s reversal is the latest development in a public controversy that has embroiled the institute for the last month.

BCRI officials announced in October Davis would receive the annual award. But on January 3rd, the board voted at a special meeting to rescind the award saying Davis did not “meet all of the criteria on which the award is based.” The statement did not specify any criteria.

Davis grew up in Birmingham during the civil rights era. The longtime civil rights activist is former a member of the Black Panther and Communist parties. She’s a retired professor of the University of California, Santa Cruz. Davis is also a vocal critic of the Israeli government’s policies toward Palestinians and supports the movement to boycott Israel.

That support appears to have motivated the decision to rescind the award. Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, an ex-officio member of the BCRI board, said in a statement at the time the decision was made “after protests from some members of the community, Jewish and otherwise.” Days before the award was rescinded, the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center’s board wrote the BCRI  saying they were concerned and disappointed with the decision to honor Davis.

The board’s move prompted a wave of criticism. Woodfin said he was “dismayed.” Activists called for board members to resignThree board member did resign and the board issued an apology a few days later. Davis said she would still come to Birmingham in February, despite the gala honoring her having been cancelled, for a series of alternative events.

Friday’s statement from the BCRI board says the board voted January 14th, the day it issued the apology, to “reaffirm Dr. Davis as the recipient.” It says the board immediately invited Davis to reaccept the award. The statement says the vote was part of learning from its mistakes and keeping in line with the organization’s mission.

Interim board chair Rev. Thomas Wilder says the reversal is a matter of conscience.

“Public repentance can be very, very difficult and very brutal,” Wilder says. “But if you really want to stand by what you think is right, then you do that and you deal with whatever consequences come.”

Wilder says the handling of the award was not meant to embarrass Davis and he hopes she does accept it. But he says he accepts whatever decision she makes.

“She has been publicly humiliated in her own hometown and sometimes that takes a little time to work through,” Wilder says.

Calls to the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center and Angela Davis were not immediately returned.

Updated Friday at 1:45 p.m. to add quotes from Wilder.

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Andrew Yeager

Andrew Yeager