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Angela Davis met with support, standing ovation at Boutwell

Dr. Angela Davis, (seated right) surrounded by members of The Birmingham Committee for Truth and Reconciliation (BCTR), who organized her visit to Birmingham. (Stephonia Taylor McLinn Photo, For The Birmingham Times)
Times staff report

During a sold out appearance at the Boutwell Auditorium Saturday night in downtown Birmingham, Civil Rights activist, Angela Davis said she never loved the city as much as she did during her visit on Saturday.

The “Conversation with Angela Davis” at the Boutwell culminated a series of daylong activities for Davis, who earlier in the day spoke during a morning press conference at Tuggle Elementary School which she attended while growing up in Birmingham.

The visit came on the same day Davis was supposed to receive the 2018 Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, an award the BCRI’s board rescinded then reversed and said it would give to Davis, after all.

On Saturday, Davis spoke in front of a packed auditorium with Dr. Imani Perry, professor of African-American studies at Princeton University, and was greeted with a standing ovation.

“It is really a joy to be here this evening,” Davis said. “It almost feels as if we are marking a new beginning.”

Growing up in Birmingham, Davis said she learned that “resistance can be fun” and explained how she and the other children used to dare each other to run to the white side of the street, run up to a porch and ring the doorbell. “And it was fun,” she said.

The Birmingham Committee for Truth and Reconciliation (BCTR) held two events for Davis on Saturday: “Power To The People: Activism and Justice Forum” held at Tuggle Elementary School Saturday morning and “A Conversation with Angela Davis” at the Boutwell Auditorium Saturday night.

Dr. Angela Davis culminated a series of daylong events in Birmingham with a “Conversation” at a sold out Boutwell Auditorium. (Stephonia Taylor McLinn Photo, For The Birmingham Times)

“Thank you for letting the world know that Birmingham is not as provincial as it initially appeared to be and the fact that the news traveled all over the world and people are looking toward Birmingham because of the work that you did,” she said earlier to the organizing BCTR committee.

At the Boutwell, Davis said that change has always come from the younger generations. “And…it’s very bizarre that as we grow older we forget, and somehow we think that we are the ones in possession of all of the knowledge. We forget what it was like to be young, to respect our elders, but also recognize that sometimes we have to do things differently and that means we have to challenge our elders.”

David said she often points out the metaphor of one generation standing on the shoulders of the previous generation. “We should think about that because if you’re standing on someone’s shoulders it means, first of all you’ve learned pretty much all that they’ve learned, you know what they know, but you’re on their shoulders and you can see a great deal further.”

On Jan. 25, the BCRI announced that it re-invited Davis to receive the Shuttlesworth award. Davis said she hasn’t decided whether to accept the award.

“I have not yet responded to the institute, I think that should be a collective decision. Particularly, a decision that is taken by activists here in Birmingham,” she said during a press conference at Tuggle. “The issues are not simply issues involving me as an individual so I will take my lead from the community in Birmingham.

Davis was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list in October of 1970 but was later acquitted during her trial.

“Champion Of Human Rights”

Davis ,74, has spent decades fighting for civil rights. She was an active member of the Black Panther Party, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Communist Party USA. She also is an outspoken supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

The civil rights institute’s president and CEO, Andrea Taylor, said in October that the organization was “thrilled to bestow this honor” on Davis whom she described as “one of the most globally recognized champions of human rights, giving voice to those who are powerless to speak.”

But the institute announced that 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.”

The statement did not indicate what criteria Davis didn’t meet, nor did it identify the origin of the complaints. Many people responded with outrage on Twitter and Facebook.

On January 10, three BCRI board members Mike Oatridge, chair; Walter Body, vice chair and Janice Kelsey, secretary, said they were resigning.

After her “Conversation” at the Boutwell on Saturday night Davis received a standing ovation.