Birmingham City Council

Birmingham City Council Appoints Board Members for Art Museum, Civil Rights Institute

Birmingham City Council. (Source: Sam Prickett)

Stressing the importance of diverse leadership, the Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to appoint a slate of new board members to both the Birmingham Museum of Art and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

Four BMA board members – Maye Head Frei, Mark Drew, Joel Piassick and current board chair James K. Outland – were appointed to second terms. Norman B. Davis Jr., BMA Director Graham Corray Boettcher described as “a supporter of the museum for years,” was appointed to replace James Hudson, who resigned from the board. Attorney C. Randall Minor will fill the seat vacated by Larry Thornton, who had served two consecutive six-year terms on the board.

Boettcher described the group of appointees as “the single most diverse board slate to come before this body in the history of this city and the history of this museum… It is diverse with respect to race, with respect to gender and with respect to the talents that each and every board member brings to this body.”

The council will vote next Tuesday on approval a slate of six “annual” members to the BMA’s board. Annual members, unlike the board’s 15 “regular members,” can only serve for one year at a time; regular members can serve for up to two consecutive six-year terms.

The council also appointed 17 new members to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s board of directors on Tuesday. Andrea L. Taylor, the president and CEO of the BCRI, told councilors that the new appointees were “chosen in a period of some disruption and brouhaha that found us in a very awkward position as an organization.”

Taylor was referring to the controversy that erupted earlier this year when the BCRI announced it was revoking a human rights award it had planned to give to activist and writer Angela Davis over Davis’s vocal criticism of Israel. The subsequent public uproar led three board members – Jeffrey Bayer, Janice Kelsey and Mike Oatridge — to resign. The rest of the board to eventually reversed its decision.

In the wake of the Davis incident, Taylor said, the BCRI began to “search for new leadership to help us pursue and carry forward with our mission to promote civil rights.” The organization held an open nominations process, she said, taking submissions from “across the county, and indeed, in a way, across the country.” The 18 members approved by the council, she said, had been narrowed down from a pool of over 50 applicants.

Five board members – Rosilyn Houston, Danny Markstein, J. John Oros Jr., Jonathan Porter and Rev. Thomas L. Wilder Jr. – were reappointed. The remaining 12 appointees – Cassandra Adams, William Burgess, Tamera Coyne-Beasley, Nyesha Black, Yolanda Clayton, Robert Dickerson, Daryl Grant, Angela McKenzie, Richard Rice, John Saxon, David Thomas, and Rev. Gwendolyn Webb – are first-term members.

Like Boettcher, Taylor emphasized diversity of the new appointments. “We were attentive to the demographics of the city of Birmingham and took that into consideration as we recruited new board members,” she said, pointing out that the board consists of seven black women, seven black men, and four white men. “They are really eager to serve,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do.”

This story has been updated to remove Isaac Cooper from the list of appointees during this meeting. He was, however, appointed to the BCRI during the council’s Sept. 3 meeting.