Mea Culpa: BCRI Apologizes, Offers Davis Award as New Group Moves Forward With Alternate Plans

The BCRI with the 4 Little Girls statue in foreground.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is “taking things day by day” as it awaits a response from civil rights icon Angela Davis to its offer to give her its highest award – an offer it made earlier then rescinded.

Meanwhile, the grassroots organization that formed after the institute rescinded its invitation to honor Davis announced its plans for her to come to town.

The Rev. Thomas Wilder, interim chairman of the BCRI board of directors, is awaiting an answer from Davis to the institute’s renewed wish to present its Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award to her.

“Right now the most immediate issue is to let Dr. Davis know how apologetic we are for whatever we’ve done that caused any disparaging remarks to her name or to her character,” Wilder said. “We think the right thing to do is to ask her to accept the award and then after that we’ll move forward.”

BCRI officials announced in October that Davis would receive the annual award. On Jan. 3, the board voted at a special meeting to rescind the award, saying Davis did not “meet all of the criteria on which the award is based.” The statement did not specify the criteria. 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 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.

Uncertainty Over Gala

The award was to have been presented at BCRI’s annual gala. It is undetermined when, or if, that event will take place.

“We’re taking things day by day,” said Wilder, pastor of the historic Bethel Baptist Church that Shuttlesworth pastored decades ago. “That was our major fundraiser and for that to go by the wayside may impact our operations. We do need to try to make up that money some way but right now we’re just taking it a day at a time.

“The main thing is to issue this public apology and let Dr. Davis know that we’re sorry and to re-examine what we did and try to get things the way they need to be and start pursuing out 2020 vision.”

While the BCRI event is in doubt, the Birmingham Committee for Truth and Reconciliation on Friday announced specifics of its plan to host a series of events on Saturday, Feb. 16, to honor and recognize Davis. That is the same date Davis had originally been invited by the Institute.

The committee’s events are free, although registration is required for each. Tickets will be available Jan. 25 at 5 p.m.

BCTR’s events are:

Power To The People: Activism and Justice Forum from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. An application to attend is required and the location will be disclosed upon approval.

According to a release, the 4-hour summit is intended to embody the spirit of Davis’ life work and unwavering commitment to the training and development of future leaders ages 18 and older.

Interested participants must register to attend at The registration deadline for this event is Feb. 4. Capacity is limited.

A Conversation with Dr. Angela Davis from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Lyric Theatre. Again, registration is required.

The Birmingham Committee for Truth and Reconciliation did not respond to requests for comment on the institute’s latest offer to honor Davis. A request for comment from Birmingham Holocaust Education Center also went unanswered.

Some members of the Birmingham Committee for Truth and Reconciliation – including former Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington and retired federal judge U.W. Clemon – had been key leaders in the creation of the institute. Wilder said there is hope that those relationships can be healed.

“We hope to have some public discussion with rational people from both sides so that we can heal those wounds and build some bridges out of this,” the interim BCRI board chairman said. “This would be a great opportunity to extend a hand across the house, so to speak, and talk to people and help everybody to understand everyone else’s position and for the board to try to build some strategic alliances with different members of the population.”