Shame, shade in Birmingham

Julianne Malveaux | 1/18/2019, 6 a.m.
If anyone deserves a civil rights award, Angela Davis certainly does. The activist and scholar has been on the front ...

Julianne Malveaux

Julianne Malveaux

If 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 and other civil and human rights issues. 

When I learned in October that Dr. Davis 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.

Everyone 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.

Some 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 Dr. 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 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 25 states that have passed laws forbidding the state from doing business with companies that boycott Israel. It also will not invest pension funds in companies that support BDS. 

Thirteen additional states and the District of Columbia have laws pending that are similar to Texas, pitting people’s First Amendment rights of free speech against support for Israel. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, in the middle of a government shutdown, had the nerve to introduce national legislation that mirrors the Texas law.

Lots of people in Birmingham aren’t having it. Although the Civil Rights Institute has rescinded its award to Dr. Davis, there has been significant protest about the decision. 

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, who is a non-voting member of the museum board and did not participate in the decision to rescind the award, has expressed dismay about the decision. Three board members have resigned.

Who rescinds an award after it has been granted for statements that were not recently made, but are a matter of record?

Dr. Davis has long been an outspoken activist, just like Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth was. Nothing had been changed from the time Dr. Davis was notified of the award and Jan. 4, when it was rescinded. The institute did not have to honor Dr. Davis, but their canceling the award is a special kind of insult. 

Fortunately, Dr. Davis has a thick skin. She knows exactly who she is. She didn’t cringe when then-California Gov. 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 Civil Rights Institute rescinded the award.

Indeed, Dr. Davis will travel to Birmingham in February for an alternative event. 

Unfortunately, I’m not surprised by the action. 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 Saviours’ Day events. 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 Dr. Davis is being denied an award. 

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 U.S. Constitution and undercuts the actions at the very foundation of our nation. 

The writer is an author and economist.