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Angela Davis On The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Rescinding Human Rights Award

Birmingham City Council unanimously approves resolution of support for Dr. Angela Davis. Group Sets Celebration of Angela Davis, Protests BCRI Revoking Its Award

Angela Davis: 'I am proud to have worked closely with Jewish organizations and individuals on issues of concern to all of our communities throughout my life.', Jake May/AP

“The rescinding of this invitation and the cancellation of the event where I was scheduled to speak was thus not primarily an attack against me but rather against the very spirit of the indivisibility of justice.” Angela Davis

Civil rights leader Angela Davis has responded to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s decision to revoke a human rights award in her honor over her activism for Palestinian rights and criticism of Israel. Davis will instead appear at an alternative event in Birmingham in her honor.

On Saturday January 5, I was stunned to learn that the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Board of Directors had reversed their previous decision to award me the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award. Although the BCRI refused my requests to reveal the substantive reasons for this action, I later learned that my long-term support of justice for Palestine was at issue. This seemed particularly unfortunate, given that my own freedom was secured – and indeed my life was saved – by a vast international movement. And I have devoted much of my own activism to international solidarity and, specifically, to linking struggles in other parts of the world to U.S. grassroots campaigns against police violence, the prison industrial complex, and racism more broadly. The rescinding of this invitation and the cancellation of the event where I was scheduled to speak was thus not primarily an attack against me but rather against the very spirit of the indivisibility of justice. 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. Through my experiences at Elizabeth Irwin High School in New York City and at Brandeis University in the late fifties and early sixties, and my subsequent time in graduate school in Frankfurt, Germany, I learned to be as passionate about opposition to antisemitism as to racism. It was during this period that I was also introduced to the Palestinian cause. I am proud to have worked closely with Jewish organizations and individuals on issues of concern to all of our communities throughout my life. In many ways, this work has been integral to my growing consciousness regarding the importance of protesting the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The trip to Birmingham, where I was born and raised, to receive the Fred Shuttlesworth Award, 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. Moreover, my most inspirational Sunday School teacher Odessa Woolfolk was the driving force for the institute’s creation. Despite the BCRI’s regrettable decision, I look forward to being in Birmingham in February for an alternative event organized by those who believe that the movement for civil rights in this moment must include a robust discussion of all of the injustices that surround us.

Angela Y. Davis, January 7, 2019

In a Democracy Now! exclusive, legendary activist and scholar Angela Davis speaks out after the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute rescinded a human rights award for her, reportedly due to her activism for Palestinian rights. 

After news that broke over the weekend that the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute rescinded an award that was to be presented to Dr. Angela Davis, the Birmingham City Council unanimously passed a resolution of support for the civil rights icon.

The BCRI issued a statement saying “supporters and other concerned individuals and organizations, both inside and outside of our local community, began to make requests that we reconsider our decision,” and claimed Davis did not meet the criteria for the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award.

It has since been reported that Davis’s long-time support of Palestine and calls for a boycott of Israel was seen as an issue for the BCRI board. Councilor Steven Hoyt issued this statement during Thursday’s City Council meeting regarding the matter (he later called for a resolution of support that was unanimously approved):

“I want to say something about what we’ve experienced in the last couple of days since we learned on Saturday that the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute decided to withdraw an award that was to be given to Dr. Angela Davis. It is absolutely embarrassing to withdraw an award and it’s disingenuous that we would be selective in our measure of one’s humanity without considering the totality of their lives. We are products of our experiences, so where is the grace in this matter? She didn’t nominate herself. The nominating committee deemed her worthy and now she’s not. All money isn’t good money, especially if it’s contingent on a partial view akin to “don’t shout until I tell you to shout.”

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s controversial cancelation of its plan to honor civil rights icon Angela Davis continues to generate aftershocks. A grassroots collection of civic, religious, legal, educational and business leaders announced Wednesday that it will honor Davis in a day that will conclude with an evening event – A Conversation with Angela Davis, The Birmingham Watch reported.

The BCRI had chosen Davis to receive the Shuttlesworth award during its annual gala next month. But several days ago, the institute rescinded that offer and canceled the gala, saying in a statement that Davis “does not meet all of the criteria on which the award is based.”

Standing in the middle of Kelly Ingram Park and across the street from BCRI on Wednesday, members of the Birmingham Committee for Truth and Reconciliation said it will honor Davis, a Birmingham native, on Feb. 16.

The committee, reconstituted from a civil rights group active in the 1960s, includes 31 persons. Among its members are former Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington, retired federal judge U.W. Clemon, Birmingham Times founder Jesse Lewis and Woke Vote founder DeJuana Thompson.

During the press conference, Thompson read exerpts from an open letter to Davis, their “shero.”

Angela Davis. Photo Angela Davis. (Source: Courtesy of Columbia GSAPP. Creative Commons license.

“We want you to know that Birmingham stands with you,” she read. “Dr. Davis, we will not allow any denial of your life, legacy and impact around global human rights to persist because we love you, we honor you and we will fight with you.”

Clemon said later he did not know why BCRI had revoked its invitation to Davis. He added that he thought the move was completely inappropriate “and I so expressed it to everyone that I know.”

“To the extent that it was revoked, it was because of her position on the Palestinian situation,” he said. “Her views are identical to mine. I believe there is a longstanding injustice in the Palestinian relationship with the state of Israel.”

Retired circuit judge Houston Brown announces day to honor Angela Davis during Birmingham Committee for Truth and Reconciliation press conference Jan. 9, 2019. The events will be Feb. 16, the same day the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute had planned to honor her during a gala before rescinding its offer last week.

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About AJ Woodson (2278 Articles)
AJ Woodson is the Editor-In-Chief of Black Westchester and Co-Owner of Urban Soul Media Group, the parent company. AJ is a Father, Brother, Author, Writer, Journalism Fellow, Rapper, Radio Personality, Hip-Hop Historian and A Freelance Journalist whose byline has appeared in several print publications and online sites including The Source, Vibe, the Village Voice, Upscale, Sonicnet.com, Launch.com, Rolling Out Newspaper, Spiritual Minded Magazine and several others.
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