3 members of Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s Board of Directors resign over Davis decision

The BCRI opened its doors in 1992 and is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Source:...
The BCRI opened its doors in 1992 and is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Source: WBRC video
Updated: Jan. 9, 2019 at 2:21 PM CST
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BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) -The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is losing three board of directors after the Institute reversed a decision to give Angela Davis its annual award named for Birmingham Civil Rights Icon, Fred Shuttlesworth.

Chair Mike Oatridge, First Vice Chair Walter Body and Secretary Janice Kelsey all stepped down.

Davis called the Institute’s decision to withdraw the award and cancel the Shuttlesworth dinner “not primarily an attack against me but rather against the very spirit of the indivisibility of justice.”

She said the Institute would not tell her why she was no longer invited, but that she eventually learned the issue was her “long-term support of justice for Palestine.”

The Birmingham native and retired educator is known for her links to the Black Panthers and the Communist Party USA as well as her work including books seeking reform of the U.S. prison system.

The former board members said in a statement:

“It has been our privilege to serve as volunteer Board members of the Birmingham Civil RightsInstitute Board of Directors. It is an honor to be associated with this 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.

"We care deeply about this institution and its continued success. Effective immediately, we are resigning our BCRI Board and Officer positions.

"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. We are happy to lend any assistance that may be needed on an interim basis to ensure a smooth transition.

We remain committed to the enduring principles of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and its quest for human rights and understanding for all people.”

Davis says in the statement released to WBRC that she does still intend to come to Birmingham for an alternative event by a group she does not name.

You can read Davis' response in its entirety below:

"On Saturday January 5, I was stunned to learn that the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Board of Directors had reversed their previous decision to award me the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award. 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. This seemed particularly unfortunate, given that my own freedom was secured – and indeed my life was saved – by a vast international movement. And 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. 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.

I support Palestinian political prisoners just as I support current political prisoners in the Basque Country, in Catalunya, in India, and in other parts of the world. I have indeed expressed opposition to policies and practices of the state of Israel, as I express similar opposition to U.S. support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine and to other discriminatory U.S. policies. Through my experiences at Elizabeth Irwin High School in New York City and at Brandeis University in the late fifties and early sixties, and my subsequent time in graduate school in Frankfurt, Germany, I learned to be as passionate about opposition to antisemitism as to racism. It was during this period that I was also introduced to the Palestinian cause. I am proud to have worked closely with Jewish organizations and individuals on issues of concern to all of our communities throughout my life. In many ways, this work has been integral to my growing consciousness regarding the importance of protesting the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

The trip to Birmingham, where I was born and raised, to receive the Fred Shuttlesworth Award, was certain to be the highlight of my year—especially since I knew Rev. Shuttlesworth personally and attended school with his daughter, Patricia, and because my mother, Sallye B. Davis, worked tirelessly for the BCRI during its early years. Moreover, my most inspirational Sunday School teacher Odessa Woolfolk was the driving force for the institute’s creation. Despite the BCRI’s regrettable decision, I look forward to being in Birmingham in February for 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."

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