Group Sets Celebration of Angela Davis, Protests BCRI Revoking Its Award

Retired federal judge U.W. Clemon spoke during a Birmingham Committee for Truth and Reconciliation press conference in support of Angela Davis. Jan. 9, 2019. (Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

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.

Earlier in the day, three members of the BCRI board of directors announced their resignation from that body. Chairman Mike Oatridge, first vice chairman Walter Body and secretary Janice Kelsey stepped away, effective immediately.

In a joint statement, the three said it was an honor to be associated with the institution, its leadership, staff and supporters.

“As members of this board, we regret the circumstances surrounding the selection process regarding the 2018 Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award and the dissension this has caused,” the release read. “We care deeply about this institution and its continued success. … It is hoped this move will enable the City of Birmingham to create a board structure that will best enable the BCRI to continue its critical mission in the future.”

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 But several days ago, the institute rescinded that offer and canceled the gala, saying in a statement that Davis “does not meet all of the criteria on which the award is based.”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.” reported having obtained a Jan. 2 letter from Birmingham Holocaust Education Center to the board of directors of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, expressing “concern and disappointment” with BCRI’s honoring activist Davis with the Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award at its annual gala and urging the Institute to “reconsider your decision.” reported that BHEC cited “recent outspoken support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

Reading from a prepared statement at the press conference, retired circuit judge Houston Brown said Birmingham Committee for Truth and Reconciliation believes, “There can be no healing or reconciliation of our deep divisions without truth and honest dialogue. We look forward to celebrating Dr. Davis and honoring a true icon who once called Birmingham home.”

Details of the Feb. 16 events will be released later. “As far as the committee is concerned, the events will be open to the public,” Clemon said. “We don’t anticipate there will be any charges to the public for contact to Miss Davis.”

Video for BirminghamWatch by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.

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.