A coalition of local activists and citizens is bringing Angela Davis to Birmingham next month for a “grassroots” event that will be open to the public. It will take place on Saturday, February 16, at a site yet to be determined.
“It will be a conversation with Dr. Davis, not a ticketed event,” said DeJuana Thompson, founder of Woke Vote, “It will center around her life’s work and the current work she’s doing to address in injustice around the world.”
Davis was to be honored on that date by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute with the Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award. But the Institute’s board of directors, bowing to pressure primarily from the city’s Jewish community, voted last Friday to rescind the invitation and cancel its annual fund-raising gala.
In a statement, BCRI said, “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.”
Davis was “stunned” by the decision, she said, adding BCRI “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."
The coalition, a revival of the Birmingham Committee for Truth and Reconciliation, includes people representing a diverse, inter-generational cross-section of city leaders.
Among them: former Birmingham mayor Richard Arrington, former Circuit Court Judge Houston Brown (a childhood friend of Davis’), community activist and scholar T. Marie King, Thompson, retired Federal Judge U.W. Clemon, Birmingham Times founder Dr. Jesse Lewis, representatives of groups such as Black Lives Matter, Birmingham Southern Colege, Greater Birmingham Ministries, Bethel Baptist Church of Pratt Cityl Blk Pearl (a Birmingham-based organization providing safe environments for Southern LGBTQ women of color living at or below the poverty line) and others, including members of the Jewish community.
Thompson, speaking at a press conference Wednesday, read from an open letter to Davis:
"We want you to know that Birmingham stands with you. Dr. Davis, we will not allow any denial of your life, legacy, and impact around global human rights to persist because we love you, honor you, and will fight for you.
"Leaders such as Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, whose house was bombed by racists and who sustained extensive injuries from white supremacists while attempting to enroll his children in segregated schools, would be proud of your life and legacy, Dr. Davis.
"You embody the spirit, values, and selfless sacrifice of your ancestors and elders. Your work in prison abolition, cis and trans women’s rights, labor rights, Black liberation, the anti-war movement, LGBTQ+ rights, and fighting global injustices are all emblematic of comprehensive, clear, and nuanced agendas to end suffering, marginalization, and oppression around the world.
“Only intersectional organizing can accomplish these goals. Dr. Davis”
“[The coalition],” said Judge Brown, who also spoke at the press event, "believes there can be no healing or reconciliation of our deep divisions without truth and honest dialogue
Thompson spoke with Davis earlier this week. “She had been so excited to return to her hometown and her people,” Thompson said. “She remains committed to that.”
Davis was then not fully aware of the repercussions ignited by the BCRI’s decision. The details moved her, Thompson said.
“As we began to share with her the outpouring of concern at the BCRI decision, but also the love and affirmation coming from so many parts of community she became somewhat emotional and knew this was bigger than just this moment,” Thompson said.