Davis joins a long list of scholars and activists who have been censored in efforts to silence debate on Israeli apartheid.
“My long-term support of justice for Palestine was at issue.”
Activist, poet, academic and writer Angela Davis says she was “stunned” to learn last Saturday that the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute had rescinded its invitation to honor her next month, in her hometown, with the Fred L. Shuttlesworth Award for Human Rights.
However, in a statement released Monday, Davis revealed she is still coming to Birmingham.
“Despite the BCRI’s regrettable decision,” she said, “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.”
Davis, who will turn 75 later this month, did not provide details about the February event.
After informing her of its decision, the BCRI board of directors, Davis added, “refused my requests to reveal the substantive reasons for this action.”
She later learned, however, that “my long-term support of justice for Palestine was at issue.”
“This seemed particularly unfortunate,” she said, “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 was thus not primarily an attack against me but rather against the spirit of the indivisibility of justice.”
The BCRI announced in October that it was celebrating Davis, who grew up on Dynamite Hill and went on to become an activist and revolutionary whose influence spanned generations. Yet late last month, in the wake of an essay written by Larry Brooks, editor of Southern Jewish Lifethat noted her support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) against Israel and other efforts that sparked discomfort in Birmingham’s Jewish community.
“The rescinding of this invitation was thus not primarily an attack against me but rather against the 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.”
Previous Shuttlesworth Award recipients have also been critical of Israel, including actor Danny Glover and actor/activist Harry Belafonte.
“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,” she said, “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.”
“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.”
On Monday, PalestineLegal.org sent this statement in support of Davis to AL.com:
"The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI)’s decision to rescind an honor previously extended to Angela Davis is only the latest incident in a well-documented nationwide campaign to censor and punishcritics of Israel. Davis joins a long list of scholars and activists who have been censored, fired, de-funded, defamed, harassed and targetedwith frivolous litigation because of concerted efforts by the Israeli government and anti-Palestinian organizations in the U.S. to silence debate."
Davis was particularly looking forward to returning home.
“[It] was certain to be the highlight of my year,” she said, “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.”
Woolfolk is an iconic figure in her own right, having been a teacher in Birmingham during the famous Children’s Crusade, when Birmingham young people faced down Bull Connor’s fire hoses and police dogs to help end legal segregation in the city.
She was one of two ex-officio BCRI board members who were not included in the executive session “emergency” conference call in which the board voted to rescind the award. The other ex-officio member is Birmingham mayor Randall Woodfin.
Woodfin expressed “dismay” at the decision in a lengthy statement released on Sunday, saying it “harks backward, rather than forward — that portrays us as the same Birmingham we always have been, rather than the one we want to be.”
This article previously appeared in Al.com.
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