The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute announced it was canceling its gala and rescinding the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award that was to be given to activist and scholar Angela Davis, a vocal supporter of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement for Palestinian rights. Below is a statement from the NLG Alabama Chapter in response:
The National Lawyers Guild has been honored by its long history with our sister, Angela Davis. When she faced murder charges in California her legal team was led by Doris Brin Walker, then Guild president. Other members of the team included Haywood Burns, who would later become president, and Margaret Burnham, who received the Guild’s Ernie Goodman award in 2012, the year we celebrated our 75th anniversary. We were honored to have Angela give the keynote address that year.
More important, we recall Angela speaking at the 16th Street Baptist Church. One can look across the street at the church from the large windows at the end of the tour of the BCRI. It is bitterly ironic and shameful that the BCRI, nearly three months after it announced she would receive its Fred Shuttlesworth award, has chosen to retract the invitation and cancel the awards dinner. BCRI has been one of the most important legacies of Richard Arrington, Jr., Birmingham’s first black mayor and its decision irrevocably tarnishes that legacy.
Mayor Arrington was vilified for having the now-iconic sculpture commemorating the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement placed in Kelly-Ingram Park. Many called it “divisive” but, to his credit, he ignored the protests and stood firm on the conviction that we cannot ignore or forget our history.
“Upon closer examination of Ms. (that should be “Dr.”) Davis’ statements and public record, we concluded that she unfortunately does not meet all of the criteria on which the award is based,” BCRI’s statement said. There is nothing about Angela that the powers that be at BCRI did not know in October when the award was announced. Their caving to pressure from some funders is a disgrace. Their decision to rescind the award reflects nothing so much as cowardice in place of principle, the diametric opposite of all that Fred Shuttlesworth stood for. We mourn the loss of the BCRI as a Birmingham institution conceived to insure we never forget that freedom is a constant struggle and that courage in the face of adversity drives history forward. It is now just another musty museum, and one that has abandoned what was a noble mission.