First, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute announced that they were honoring human rights icon Angela Davis with its highest award. Then they basically said, “We thought about it and...nah.” Then, they issued a Kevin Hart-like apology for rescinding the award. Then, after resignations, call-outs and controversy, the heralded civil rights museum dedicated to enlightening people “about civil and human rights” told Angela Davis (I’m paraphrasing):
“Umm...remember that time we smeared your name, accused you of doing the very thing you fought against and said you life’s work doesn’t meet our standards? Well, we changed our mind. We’d like to honor you.”
On Friday, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute rescinded their original rescission of their decision (I know that sounds like old Das EFX lyrics) to recognize Davis’s contributions with the Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award. In a statement, the Birmingham, Alabama, museum announced that they had personally re-invited Davis to accept the museum’s highest honor.
“In keeping with its commitment to learning from its mistakes and in order to stay true to the BCRI’s founding mission, the Board voted to reaffirm Dr. Davis as the recipient,” read the statement. Noting that Dr. Davis may very well decide to tell the BCRI where they can shove their un-reneging, they added, “The BCRI respects her privacy and timing in whatever her response may ultimately be.”
Davis was originally named the recipient of this year’s honor before the museum’s majority-white board retracted its decision. 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 reversal. At issue was Davis’ longstanding commitment to speaking out about Israel’s human rights violations against Palestinian citizens. Woodfin and others were incensed that the BCRI board thought Davis was too dedicated to fighting for human rights to receive a human rights award.
As the controversy grew, human rights groups from around the world, including Jewish groups opposing the initial backlash, issued declarations of support for Davis, a Birmingham native. Following the resignations of three BCRI board members, a separate group of citizens decided to invite Davis to the city and honor her anyway.
Finally, under mounting pressure, the BCRI apologized.
“Each member of the Board of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute deeply regrets the impact that the handling of the Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award has had on Dr. Angela Davis, the City of Birmingham, and many others who have been impacted by our handling of the award,” the remaining board members said in a statement. “We are sorry.”
“We acknowledge that the culmination of our decisions and actions has caused division in the community and compromised the good name of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute on the world stage,” the statement read. “In hindsight, more time, conversation and consideration of diverse viewpoints should have informed our decision to rescind our nomination, and we were silent for too long afterward. Again, we accept responsibility and are sorry.”
BCRI CEO Andrea Taylor said some things in the Friday statement. However, Taylor hailing Davis’ achievements as “noteworthy” was so far removed from when she and the BCRI derided Davis’ “lack of vocal opposition to violence” that The Root may need to confirm that it was not written by a Russian bot programmed with an apology script.
While many have vilified the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, they are still the favorites to win a medal in the 2020 Olympics 200-meter backstroke.