anyone deserves a civil rights award, Angela Davis certainly does.
The activist and scholar has been on the front lines of the civil
rights movement all of her life. She has been especially active in
prison reform matters, but she has also been involved in other civil
and human rights issues. When I learned back in October that she
would get the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award from the
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, I was absolutely delighted. I
imagined the wide smile the daughter of Birmingham must have flashed
when she learned that she would be honored.
in Birmingham wasn't thrilled, though. Some people in the
conservative Southern town seemed disturbed that she had been a
member of both the Black Panther Party and the Communist Party.
Others were concerned about her support of the BDS (Boycott,
Divestment and Sanctions Movement) against the Israeli occupation.
She has said that she stands in solidarity with the Palestinian
people, and advocates for their fair treatment in Israel.
ill informed people consider the BDS movement "anti-Semitic".
They suggest that any questions that one raises about Israel shows a
bias against Jewish people. But Davis, a lifelong human rights
activist, is concerned about the humanity of Palestinian people, as
well as other people. And she is rightfully concerned, as many of us
are, about the spate of laws recently passed that downright outlaw
the BDS movement. According to the Middle East Monitor, a teacher in
Texas, Bahia Amawl, refused to sign an oath that required her to
pledge that she "does not currently boycott Israel", that
she will not boycott Israel and that she will "refrain from any
action that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or
limit commercial relations with Israel". Texas is among some 25
states that have passed laws forbidding the state from doing business
with companies that boycott Israel! It will also not invest pension
funds in companies that support BDS. Thirteen more states including
Washington DC, have similar laws to the Texas law pending, pitting
people's first amendment rights of free speech against support for
Israel. And Florida Senator Marco Rubio, in the middle of a
government shutdown, had the nerve to introduce national legislation
that mirrors the Texas law (actually, Illinois was the first state to
pass this discriminatory law).
of people in Birmingham aren't having it. Though the "Civil
Rights Institute" has rescinded its award to Dr. Angela Davis,
there has been significant protest about the decision. Birmingham's
Mayor, Randall Woodfin, who is a non-voting member of the Museum
Board and did not participate in the decision to rescind the award
(the city provides the museum with about a million dollars a year in
operating funds) has expressed his dismay about the decision. Three
board members have resigned from the board. And Alabama columnist
Roy S. Johnson has written a fiery column accusing the Civil Rights
Institute of insulting Rev. Shuttlesworth and staining its own
legacy. Johnson says the Birmingham Jewish community may have been
the loudest, but not the only folks pushing for Davis' award to be
rescinds an award after it has been granted for statements that were
not recently made, but are a matter of record? Angela Davis has
long been an outspoken activist, just like Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth
was. Nothing had been changed from the time Davis was notified of the
award and January 4, when it was rescinded. The BCRI did not have to
honor Davis, but their canceling the award is a special kind of
insult. Fortunately, Angela Davis has a thick skin, and she knows
exactly who she is. She didn't cringe when then-California governor
Ronald Reagan had her fired from UCLA for her membership in the
Communist Party. She didn't flinch when she was incarcerated for a
crime she did not commit. And she will not tremble because the BCRI
rescinded the award.
demonstrating the indomitable spirit that she is known for, Angela
Davis will travel to Birmingham in February for an alternative event.
And the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum has egg on its face. That
city showed a young Angela Davis who they were when the Four Little
Girls, some of whom she knew, were killed at the 16 Street Baptist
Church in Birmingham. And they are showing her who they are once
again. Shame and shade!
I'm not surprised. One of the founders of the Women's March has
demanded the resignations of Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour because
they attended one of Minister Louis Farrakhan's Savior's Days. Marc
Lamont Hill lost his CNN commentary gig because he spoke up for
Palestinian rights. Alice Walker has been criticized because she
supports BDS. Now Angela Davis is being denied an award. When is
enough going to be enough?
the record, I support Palestinian rights. And I support Israel's
right to exist. Are the two incompatible? I think not. The
one-state solution, with a right to return, and full citizenship
rights for Palestinians makes sense. But Israel is not about to
budge, and BDS as an attempt to influence it. States passing laws to
outlaw free speech erodes the first principle of our Constitution and
undercut the actions at the very foundation of our nation. Remember
the folks who dumped tea into the Boston Harbor because of an unfair
tax? Today that action might be against the law!