US cultural centre backtracks on honouring activist Angela Davis

Activist Angela Davis says the reason behind BCRI’s decision was down to her ‘long-term’ support for Palestine.

Angela Davis
Activist Angela Davis is a renowned American author and academic [File: Mark Blinch/Reuters]

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in the US state of Alabama has revoked its award honouring global human rights activist Angela Davis.

Davis, a former member of the Communist Party USA, brief associate of the Black Panther Party, and a renowned author and academic was selected last September to receive the Fred Shuttlesworth Award, named after the Baptist minister (1922-2011) who was one of the top leaders of the civil rights movement in the United States.

Davis also voiced her support for several movements that call for social and political justice such as Black Lives Matter and the Palestinian-led BDS. She also campaigned for the release of Palestinian Rasmea Odeh, who was imprisoned, tried and eventually deported from the US.

The award is given in recognition of individuals who have dedicated their services to civil and human rights causes around the world. Davis was due to receive the accolade in February at a gala event.

However, a statement by BCRI explained why it rescinded the award, saying in December, “supporters and other concerned individuals and organisations, both inside and outside of our local community, began to make requests that we reconsider our decision”.

“Upon closer examination of Ms Davis’ statements and public record, we concluded that she unfortunately does not meet all of the criteria on which the award is based,” the institute said.

The statement went on to say while the board recognises Davis’ stature as a scholar and prominent figure in civil rights history, their decision was “consistent with the ideals of the award’s namesake, Revered Shuttlesworth”.

‘Attack against spirit of justice’

In response, Birmingham’s Mayor Randall Woodfin released a statement where he said his “overriding feeling is one of dismay” and adding the “concerned individuals” mentioned by BCRI were from the “local Jewish community and its allies”.

“I am dismayed because, as has been the case throughout Birmingham’s history, people of good will behaved reflexively, rather than engaging in meaningful discourse over their differences and seeking common ground,” Woodfin said.

In a statement on Monday, Davis said she was “stunned” by BCRI’s decision and called it an attack “against the spirit of the indivisibility of justice”.

“Despite the BCRI’s regrettable decision,” she said, “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.”

Davis said the BCRI board “refused my requests to reveal the substantive reasons for this action”, but later learned that “my long-term support of justice for Palestine was at issue.”

“This seemed particularly unfortunate,” she said, “given that my own freedom was secured – and indeed my life was saved – by a vast international movement.”

The cancellation comes a month after Marc Lamont Hill was fired from CNN for speaking up about Palestine at the UN.

The mayor called the BCRI’s decision “decisive” as it “did not create an opportunity for necessary consensus dialogue”.

“It is my hope that such dialogue can take place, and we, together, choose to take advantage of the opportunity to come together to build a better understanding of ourselves and of each other,” Woodfin said.

Established 26 years ago, BCRI is a cultural and educational research centre that promotes a comprehensive understanding of the significance of civil rights developments in Birmingham. The BCRI Board has apologised to their supporters, community and Davis. It also cancelled the gala event and said ticket purchasers will receive a full refund.

Last year’s recipients included the actor, musician and human rights activist Harry Belafonte, Birmingham’s first African American Mayor Richard Arrington, and civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo, who was honoured posthumously after being the only white woman to die in the struggle for black rights after she was murdered by the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan group in 1965.

Source: Al Jazeera