(JTA) — Three board members have resigned from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which rescinded its award to African-American activist Angela Davis, allegedly due to complaints from Jewish leaders.
The resignations follow controversy over the museum and educational center’s decision last week to withdraw the Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award from Davis. She was intended to receive the award next month in a ceremony that has since been canceled.
Davis, a Birmingham, Alabama, native and leading civil rights activist, is an outspoken critic of Israel and an advocate of the movement to boycott the country. She also was a far-left leader in activist movements of the 1960s and ’70s.
The board members who resigned Wednesday were its chairman, Mike Oatridge; its first vice chair, Walter Body; and its secretary, Janice Kelsey. Their names were removed Thursday afternoon from the museum’s website.
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said in a statement that the decision to rescind the award, which was announced in September, came “after protests from our local Jewish community and some of its allies.” Davis wrote in the pro-Palestinian publication Mondoweiss that she learned her “long-term support of justice for Palestine was at issue.”
Who made it an issue is still not clear. None of the people who reportedly were involved in the decision agreed to a request from JTA for comment, including the Birmingham Jewish Federation’s CEO, Richard Friedman, and the civil rights institute’s president, Andrea Taylor, who did not respond to a call and text message.
JTA reached out to all 13 of the current and outgoing institute board members, but none would comment at length. Two of them, Thomas Wilder and Cameron Vowell, each briefly told JTA that Jews had been one constituency that had reached out to the board about the award, though both declined to elaborate on what community members requested or what role they played in influencing the decision.
“There were people from the Jewish community who did weigh in,” Wilder told JTA. “There were people from the African-American community. There were people from several communities. … There were people from the Jewish community who were in favor of it, there were people from the Jewish community who opposed it.
“We were certainly contacted by some of them and they made us aware of some things we didn’t know,” Vowell said of Jews who weighed in on the issue. She declined to comment further because she said the board had decided to “close ranks” around Taylor.