Angela Davis, one of the most famous leaders of the civil rights movement, exploded into controversy in the past few days after pushback from community members derailed what would otherwise be a positive celebration of civil rights history and an opportunity to host a fundraising gala. Now, local activists are protesting, the Birmingham mayor has condemned an esteemed civil rights institute, and a “stunned” Angela Davis is herself planning an “alternative event” in the city in February. It’s a strange conflict, and it centers around the Jewish community in Birmingham and Davis’ support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that protests Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
In October, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s board announced it would be honoring Davis with its Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award, of which past recipients have included actor Danny Glover, Rep. John Lewis, and former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young. The Institute praised Davis as an educator who “gave to those who are powerless to speak.”