By Frederick H. Lowe
The Birmingham, Alabama, Civil Rights Institute has rescinded its invitation to honor Angela Davis and cancelled its annual February gala at which Davis was scheduled to receive the prestigious Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award after a Jewish group objected because of her support of Palestinians.
“In September 2018, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s Board of Directors selected Angela Davis to receive its Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award at its annual gala in February 2019. In late December, supporters and other concerned individuals and organizations, both inside and outside of our local community, began to make requests that we reconsider our decision.”
The board said upon closer examination of Davis’s statements and public record, it concluded that she unfortunately does not meet all the criteria on which the award is based. The board voted on January 4 to rescind the award.
National Public Radio reported that the institute rescinded the award to Davis after the Birmingham Jewish Federation objected to her receiving the award because she has expressed support of Palestinians.
Temple University professor and commentator Marc Lamont Hill, who has faced criticism himself for his support of Palestinians, tweeted his support of Davis. CNN fired him after he called for a free Palestine.
Davis told The Guardian newspaper that she was “stunned” by the decision. “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,” Davis said in a statement.
Davis was scheduled to speak at the awards ceremony, named in honor of Fred Shuttlesworth, a Birmingham pastor who was co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The organization’s first president was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport is named in his honor. He died in 2011 at the age of 89.
Davis, who is 74, was born in Birmingham on June 26, 1944. She is the author of 10 books. Davis retired as a professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz. She also served time in prison for assisting in an escape, but a jury acquitted her of all charges in 1972.
The board’s decision to rescind the invitation and cancel the awards ceremony “was not primarily an attack against me but rather against the very spirit of the indivisibility of justice,” she said.
Davis was a member of the Black Panther Party, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and she supported Palestinian prisoners. Davis said she has learned to be passionate about opposition to anti-semitism as to racism. While living and attending graduate school in Frankfurt, Germany, Davis said she was introduced to the Palestinian cause and she has worked closely with Jewish organizations and individuals.
The board said it recognizes Davis’ stature as a scholar and a prominent person in the civil right movement.
Davis said she will appear at an alternative event in Birmingham in February. The Shuttlesworth award was scheduled for February 16.
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s board apologized for canceling the event.