Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award

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The Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award is an annual award bestowed by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. It is named for Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth who led the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights in Birmingham during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

The award was established for the BCRI's 10th anniversary in 2002. The honoree is chosen by Institute staff, and presented at an annual anniversary dinner, held originally at the Sheraton Birmingham ballroom. In 2015 the ceremony was moved to the Alabama Theatre with singer Smokey Robinson on the program. It was moved to the newly-reopened Lyric Theatre in 2016 and was scheduled at the Haven events center in Southside in 2019.

In October 2018 the Institute announced that Angela Davis had been selected to receive that year's Human Rights Award and would deliver an address to the annual banquet in February 2019. According to a statement from the BCRI's board of directors, "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 board held an "emergency" conference call on January 4 during which it voted 9-2 to rescind the award. The next day they announced their decision and canceled the event.

Although the board has not provided details of the criteria by which the award was judged, nor the scope of the discussion in their conference call, Davis reported being told unofficially that, "[her] long-term support of justice for Palestine was at issue."

The planned honor and its rescission both generated strong criticisms in the community. Birmingham mayor Randall Woodfin, a non-voting member of the BCRI board, expressed "dismay" at the cancellation of the honor, and the Birmingham City Council unanimously approved a resolution, "recognizing the life work of Angela Davis" on January 8. On January 9 BRCI board officers Mike Oatridge, Walter Body and Janice Kelsey resigned their positions.

Another group, styling itself the Birmingham Committee for Truth and Reconciliation, organized an alternative event for the same date at which Davis was invited to speak. The revamped BCRI board, chaired by Thomas Wilder on an interim basis, voted to "reaffirm its nomination of Davis," and invite her to appear at a rescheduled banquet. Davis left the decision of whether she would accept the award in the hands of local activists. BCRI's president, Andrea Taylor announced in August 2019 that Davis would accept the award. The presentation was made during a virtual event held during the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic on June 19, 2020.



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