An Alabama civil rights group that rescinded an award for political activist Angela Davis said it learned from its “mistakes” over the controversial move and asked the Birmingham native to accept the honor after all.
The move comes after the group’s board of directors last week issued a “public apology for its missteps in conferring, then rescinding, its nomination of Dr. Angela Y. Davis in early January “
It is not known whether Davis will attend. CNN has reached out to her for comment.
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute President and CEO Andrea Taylor said in a statement. that “Dr. Angela Davis, a daughter of Birmingham, is highly regarded throughout the world as a human rights activist.
“In fact, the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study acquired her personal archives in 2018, recognizing her significance in the movement for human rights, her involvement in raising issues of feminism, as well as her leadership in the campaign against mass incarceration. Her credentials in championing human rights are noteworthy.”
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute initially intended to honor her with its 2018 Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award in February.
But the group earlier this month rescinded the honor following opposition.
Withdrawing the award came after “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 institute’s board said in a statement at the time.
“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 statement said.
Mayor Randall Woodfin, who said he regretted the board’s move, said protests were made “by some members of the community, Jewish and otherwise.”
Reacting to the rescission, Davis said that “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. “
Davis, who is a critic of the Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories, said she was “stunned” by the move.
“I have devoted much of my own activism to international solidarity and, specifically, to linking struggles in other parts of the world to US 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,” she said.
“Dissension” and “missteps”
The rescinding drew criticism from academics and the institute lost three board members who stepped down from their positions because they “regret the circumstances surrounding the selection process regarding the 2018 Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award and the dissension this has caused.”
The institute’s board of directors on January 14 made a “public apology for its missteps in conferring, then rescinding, its nomination” of Davis.
“Immediately after that public apology, 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. Dr. Davis was immediately thereafter personally invited to reaccept the award,” the institute said.”
The Rev. Thomas L. Wilder, interim BCRI board chair, asked people to “partner with us to rebuild trust in the Institute and its important work.”
“At the end of the day, we stand for open and honest dialogue on issues. It is only through our ability to talk openly and honestly with one another that we can achieve true understanding and appreciation for one another’s perspectives. We look forward to continuing the institute’s legacy as we foster dialogue and open communications, improve our board governance and policies, and stay focused on our Vision 2020 strategic plan.”
In her reaction to the board’s initial rescinding, Davis said she was intent on planning 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. ”
Other issues, not just Palestinians
Larry Brook, editor of Southern Jewish Life magazine, said it is incorrect that opposition to the Davis appearance was solely due to her stance on Israel and the Palestinians.
He wrote a story in December about Davis’ appearance but he said there wasn’t much talk about why the cancellation originally happened.
“In the absence of a concrete explanation, a narrative spread nationally and internationally that the event had been canceled because the Jewish community dislikes her views on the Middle East, with pro-Palestinian groups charging that the Jewish community is trying to ‘silence’ dissenting voices,” Brook said.
There were other issues, he said, and other recipients of the award had been tough on Israel, too.
“Davis also has a controversial past, through activism with the Black Panthers, running for vice president on the Communist party ticket, and her role in a 1970 hostage situation in a California courtroom, where a judge and three others were killed. She was accused of providing the weapons used in the attack and landed on the FBI Ten Most Wanted list, but was eventually acquitted,” Brook. wrote in his piece on Friday.
Brook said the latest development was unexpected.
“When they originally canceled the honor, I was surprised they’ve gone that far. Now that they’ve gone back and reestablished it? That also surprised me.”