The fallout behind one of the most respected civil rights museums’ snub of freedom fighter Angela Davis continued this week with an exodus of board members and widespread condemnation from activists, scholars, and donors around the world.
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute rescinded its decision to honor Angela Davis with the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award, canceling the annual gala for the institute’s highest honor bestowed upon activists from Harry Belafonte to Congressman John Lewis. In a statement, the museum’s board said that Davis didn’t “meet all of the criteria on which the award is based.” Sources, including Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, who also sits on the museum’s board of directors, cited “protests from our local Jewish community and some of its allies” as the reason for the decision.
The museum’s backtrack reportedly revolves around Davis’ support of the Boycott Divest and Sanctioning movement. Davis has been a vocal supporter of the BDS movement that urges individuals, companies, and organizations to boycott Israel because of the country’s repeated documented human rights violations of the Palestinian people. To be clear, Davis has not been accused of any anti-Semitic statements or actions. The BCRI reneged like a cheating spades player and rescinded an award honoring people who fight for human rights simply because Davis chose to fight for human rights.
In a statement on Facebook, Davis said she was “stunned” to hear the gala was cancelled, noting that it 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.”
“The rescinding of this invitation was thus not primarily an attack against me but rather against the spirit of the indivisibility of justice,” said Davis, who was born and raised in Birmingham before going on to become one of the most outspoken and radical fighters for freedom. In her statement, Davis explained that her support for Palestine has nothing to do with a prejudice against the Jewish people, writing:
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.
Since the outcry by local activists, three members have resigned from the BCRI board of directors that snatched back the award. The outgoing moonwalkers include the institute’s chairman, Mike Oatridge, the vice president of manufacturing for Honda Alabama (please don’t ask how a white mechanical engineer became the chair of the leading civil rights museums because I don’t know. I’m guessing it probably has something to do with money).
According to AL.com, the former board members issued a joint statement saying in part, “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.”
On Wednesday, over 350 academics signed a statement from the Jewish Voice for Peace calling on BCRI to honor its initial announcement and honor Davis. The organization’s supporters said, in part:
The cancelling of this award by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is unjust, insulting and ill-conceived, especially because it is likely premised on Professor Davis’ long-standing support for Palestinian human rights. The decision seems to stem from a misinformed view that to advocate for Palestinian human rights is somehow offensive to the Jewish community.
As a Jewish organization dedicated to justice, dignity and equality for all people in Palestine/Israel, we share Professor Davis’ visionary commitment to the “indivisibility of justice,” and believe we are all responsible for pursuing social justice for all human beings, without exception—which includes pursuing social justice for Palestinians.
Professor Davis’s activist and scholarly life epitomizes the spirit and intention of this award and we call upon the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to honor Professor Davis for the totality of her work.
Another organization, Palestine Legal, noted that “Davis joins a long list of scholars and activists who have been censored, fired, de-funded, defamed, harassed and targeted with frivolous litigation because of concerted efforts by the Israeli government and anti-Palestinian organizations in the U.S. to silence debate,” adding that “BCRI similarly joins a long list of institutions that have rescinded benefits or otherwise punished critics of Israel in response to pressure from the Israeli government and anti-Palestinian organizations in the U.S.”
“Exactly who pressured BCRI, and what complaints they made about Davis, are still coming to light,” said the group’s statement. “But the pattern of censorship targeting Israel’s critics is already well documented. So are attempts by Israeli government officials to divide black leaders and suppress those who draw connections between freedom struggles of black Americans and Palestinians.”
A Birmingham coalition who opposed the Davis snub has organized an alternative event to honor the native daughter. AL.com reports that the group of community leaders, religious leaders and activists, which includes Mayor Randall Woodfin, announced that the event will take place on Feb. 16. The event will not be ticketed and will feature a conversation with Angela Davis.
The location has not been announced but it will probably not take place at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
They’d probably cancel at the last minute, anyway.