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Mayor Woodfin ‘dismayed’ by BCRI’s decision to rescind honor for Angela Davis

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Times staff report

Mayor Randall Woodfin said late Sunday he was “dismayed” by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s (BCRI) decision to rescind a Human Rights Award to Angela Davis that had been planned at its annual gala in February.

On its website, the BCRI wrote, “Upon closer examination of Ms. Davis’ statements and public record, we concluded that she unfortunately does not meet all of the criteria on which the award is based. Therefore, on January 4, BCRI’s Board voted to rescind its invitation to Ms. Davis to honor her with the Shuttlesworth Award.”

That decision sparked an outcry on social media and a strong reaction from Woodfin.

“I am dismayed because this controversy might have been avoided entirely, had it been handled differently,” he wrote in a statement published on the city’s website. “I am dismayed because, as has been the case throughout Birmingham’s history, people of good will behaved reflexively, rather than engaging in meaningful discourse over their differences and seeking common ground.

“I am dismayed because this controversy is playing out in a way that harks backward, rather than forward — that portrays us as the same Birmingham we always have been, rather than the one we want to be. I am dismayed because I believe that we should be able to expect better, from ourselves and from one another.”

In September of 2018, the BCRI’s Board of Directors selected Davis to receive the Shuttlesworth Award at its annual gala in February. “In late December, supporters and other concerned individuals and organizations, both inside and outside of our local community, began to make requests that we reconsider our decision,” said the BCRI’s statement.

“While we recognize Ms. Davis’ stature as a scholar and prominent figure in civil rights history, we believe this decision is consistent with the ideals of the award’s namesake, Rev. Shuttlesworth.

“We regret that this change is necessary, and apologize to our supporters, the community and Davis for the confusion we have caused. We will move forward with a keen focus on our mission: to enlighten each generation about civil and human rights by exploring our common past and working together in the present to build a better future.”

Woodfin wrote, “the reactive decision of the BCRI did not create an opportunity for necessary consensus dialogue. It is my hope that such dialogue can take place, and we, together, choose to take advantage of the opportunity to come together to build a better understanding of ourselves and of each other.”

Born in Birmingham on Jan. 26, 1944, Davis experienced racial prejudice while growing up in Alabama. She joined many groups, including the Black Panther Party, while she was a graduate student at the University of California in San Diego during the late 1960s. In the early 1970s, she was placed on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted List” and spent 18 months in jail and on trial before her acquittal in 1972.

Davis has taught at San Francisco State University, Mills College, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Vassar, Syracuse University the Claremont Colleges and Stanford University. She is now at the University of California Santa Cruz as Distinguished Professor Emerita of History of Consciousness – an interdisciplinary Ph.D. program – and of Feminist Studies. She has authored 10 books and has lectured throughout the United States, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and South America.

Previous winners of the Shuttlesworth award have included:

Actor and humanitarian Danny Glover, civil rights icons Congressman John Lewis, Rev. Joseph Lowery and Dorothy Cotton, legal activist and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative Bryan Stevenson, Ambassador Andrew Young, attorney Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., actor Harry Belafonte and longtime Birmingham mayor Richard Arrington.

“We believe the late Reverend Shuttlesworth would also have been proud to see this award in his name bestowed upon her,” said BCRI President and CEO Andrea Taylor said in October.

Efforts to reach Taylor for comment were unsuccessful.