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Opinion | “Cussing” the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Joey Kennedy

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Leaders of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute ought to be ashamed. They have tarnished the institute’s standing in a way that may be hard to recover from.

Last fall, the board of the BCRI voted to honor author, activist, and scholar Dr. Angela Davis, a Birmingham native, with its Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award. Earlier this month, the board rescinded its offer of the award to Davis and canceled its annual Shuttlesworth Gala.

Reportedly, some Birmingham Jewish leaders complained about the BCRI honoring Davis – who has been honored at other events in Birmingham previously – because she criticizes Israel for its policies against Palestinians and for encouraging people to withdraw investments from Israel.

Few effective human rights activists, if any, do so without controversy or criticism. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” resulted directly from criticism from moderate Birmingham clergy of King’s nonviolent marches and protests. Davis, too, spent her life campaigning for human rights, and was a long-time Communist Party member. But it appears her criticism of Israel led to the BCRI withdrawing the Shuttlesworth Award.

Not only did the institute embarrass itself by withdrawing the award, it has handled the issue in a ham-handed, disastrous manner. Davis’ colorful and meaningful life is no mystery. The board clearly knew her history when it decided to present her with the award last year. To withdraw it because of some criticism from wealthy donors because they disagreed with her stand on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is clearly a mistake that will damage the institute’s reputation forever.

Since withdrawing the award, BCRI has been a well-deserved target of protests and outrage.

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The board, in withdrawing the award, said Davis no longer met the criteria for receiving it. However, it didn’t elaborate on what criteria Davis didn’t meet.

The institute’s supposed mission statement is simple: “To enlighten each generation about civil and human rights by exploring our common past and working together in the present to build a better future.”

After embarrassing itself and Davis over this mess, that mission statement sounds awfully hollow.

Davis, in a statement, said she was “stunned” when she learned the BCRI board had “reversed their previous decision to award me the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award. Although the BCRI refused my requests to reveal the substantive reasons for this action, I later learned that my long-term support of justice for Palestine was at issue.”

Davis’ statement continues: “The trip to Birmingham, where I was born and raised, to receive the Fred Shuttlesworth Award, was certain to be the highlight of my year.”

Instead, Davis will attend an alternative event in February sponsored by others rightly upset that the BCRI made such a horrible decision.

The BCRI board has been encouraged by other human rights groups to reverse its decision, but instead the board’s three top officers resigned Wednesday, stating they regretted the “circumstances surrounding the selection process … and the dissension this has caused.” But they provided no details about what criteria Davis failed to meet or other information about their resignations.

Usually, board members who make bad decisions want them to go away, but with Davis coming to Birmingham Feb. 16 for an alternative event, on the day the Shuttlesworth Gala was originally scheduled, this controversy is not likely to go away.

Indeed, the very nature of the BCRI’s existence is to educate the public about human rights activists like Davis. If it’s not going to do that and cave to interests who disagree with its decisions, what’s the point?

Former Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington, who pushed for the institute’s creation and construction against some of this same kind of criticism, disagrees with the decision to dishonor Davis. Mayor Randall Woodfin and the Birmingham City Council have let their dissatisfaction be known. Woodfin explained why he’s confounded:

“I am dismayed because this controversy might have been avoided entirely, had it been handled differently. I am dismayed because, as has been the case throughout Birmingham’s history, people of good will behaved reflexively, rather than engaging in meaningful discourse over their differences and seeking common ground.

“I am dismayed because the controversy is playing out in a way that harks backward, rather than forward – that portrays us as the same Birmingham we always have been, rather than the one we want to be. I am dismayed because I believe that we should be able to expect better, from ourselves and one another.”

Woodfin noted that while the city does provide funding to the BCRI, and it doesn’t involve itself in programming at the organizations it helps fund, it certainly has an interest in providing funding to organizations based upon their “legal and ethical pursuit” of their mission.

Whether the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is meeting that obligation is certainly a fair question in the wake of how awful BCRI has treated Davis.

Perhaps the most stinging rebuke came from the Alabama chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, which has a “long history with our sister, Angela Davis.”

The Guild noted that Davis at one time spoke at the 16th Street Baptist Church, the scene of a 1963 bombing by the Ku Klux Klan that killed four young girls and injured many others.

“One can look across the street at the church from the large windows at the end of the tour of the BCRI,” the Guild statement reads. “It is bitterly ironic and shameful that the BCRI, nearly three months after it announced she would receive its Fred Shuttlesworth award, has chosen to retract the invitation and cancel the awards dinner. BCRI has been one of the most important legacies of Richard Arrington, Jr., Birmingham’s first black mayor and its decision irrevocably tarnishes that legacy.

The BCRI’s “caving to pressure from some funders is a disgrace,” the Guild statement reads. “Their decision to rescind the award reflects nothing so much as cowardice in place of principle, the diametric opposite of all that Fred Shuttlesworth stood for. We mourn the loss of the BCRI as a Birmingham institution conceived to insure (sic) we never forget that freedom is a constant struggle and that courage in the face of adversity drives history forward. It is now just another musty museum, and one that has abandoned what was a noble mission.”

Actions have consequences, and whatever path the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute takes after this fiasco, its history will always have this disgusting mark.

Shuttlesworth himself is likely turning in his grave. As civil rights activist’s official biographer, Andrew Manis, pointed out, Angela Davis is exactly the kind of person an award named after Shuttlesworth should go to.

“I think Fred would be cussing,” Manis told AL.com. “He often bragged about being a cussing preacher. I think he’d be cussing about this.”

I believe many of us are “cussing” about this today, and if we’re not, we should be.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a weekly column for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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Opinion | New federal judges in Alabama — Future legacy

Steve Flowers

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Regardless of what happens in Donald Trump’s administration over the next two years, he will have a proven record of success as President especially if you are a conservative American.

One of, if not the most important accomplishment of any president is the opportunity to appoint a United States Supreme Court Justice. Folks, Trump has appointed and gotten confirmed two members of the Supreme Court in two years. This is a remarkable achievement. Justices Neal Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh will have an immense impact on American laws and values for more than likely over two decades, long after Donald Trump is dead and gone. Both Gorsuch and Kavanaugh are young, in their early 50s and will be a part of many landmark rulings that will profoundly affect American public policy.

Trump’s selection of these two extremely well qualified jurists were wise ones, both are exceptionally groomed and scripted to be outstanding Justices. They are considered mainstream, moderate conservatives with the perfect educational and judicial background and experience.

Kavanaugh’s confirmation was more controversial because his choice is a pivotal swing vote on the Court that tilts the Court to a conservative majority. Gorsuch was an even swap, a conservative for a conservative. He replaced conservative Justice Anton Scalia.

Kavanaugh’s appointment was critical. The liberal Democrats had to go to the wall and declare all out war by whatever means to derail and delay the Kavanaugh confirmation. The Court swung to becoming a conservative tribunal with Kavanaugh. The Court had four liberals and four conservatives. Kavanaugh replaced the swing vote on the Court, Anthony Kennedy. Therefore, the Court is now five conservatives to four liberals. Make no doubt about it, the confirmation of a Supreme Court Judge is very political.

The liberals had to resort to extreme measures to preserve the possibility that the Republicans could lose their control of the U.S. Senate which, gives consent to a President’s SCOTUS appointments.

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In today’s extremely partisan politics, lines are drawn and there are no prisoners kept, both sides go for the jugular vein. Therefore, the only way for Trump to be successful in his garnering the placement of two conservative justices is because he has a Republican majority Senate with some very adroit veteran GOP Senate leaders like Mitch McConnell, Chuck Grassley and Richard Shelby paving the way.

Speaking of our Senior Senator, Richard Shelby, he has masterminded and orchestrated a legendary coup of his own when it comes to our U.S. Federal Judges in Alabama.

In conjunction with the Trump administration, Shelby has placed six new Federal Judges in Alabama, all young and conservative. This Shelby/Trump triumph has secured a two to three decade dominance of conservative federal judges in the Heart of Dixie.

During the Obama years at least six federal judgeships became vacant in Alabama. President Obama appointed replacements but Senator Shelby and our former Senator Jeff Sessions sat on them and refused to allow them to be confirmed. These seats have remained vacant due to partisan gamesmanship. Shelby and Sessions were hoping that a day would come when there would be a Republican President and they could place these lifetime appointments into conservative hands. That day miraculously arrived last January.

Senator Shelby and his former Chief of Staff and now BCA President, Katie Britt, spent the entire year of 2018 interviewing, vetting and selecting these judges to assure that they were young, conservative, qualified, and confirmable.

They have indeed accomplished this lifetime feat for Alabama. Liles Burke and Anne Marie Axom are the two new judges for the Northern District. Emily Marks and Andrew Braden will join conservative Chief Judge William Keith Watkins in the Middle District. The Southern District will have two new Trump-Shelby appointees in Terry Moorer and Jeffrey Beaverstock.

Senator Richard Shelby has further enhanced his legacy for decades to come and has placed an indelible stamp on the federal judiciary in Alabama with these judicial appointees.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in more than 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

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Opinion | Let’s put a wall around petty Donald Trump

Joey Kennedy

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How can one quantify how petty our infant-acting president, Donald J. Trump, really is?

Trump is so dim, he actually may be an unwitting tool of Russia. Hard to believe somebody as thin-skinned and brain-challenged as Trump could be working for the Russians intentionally. Yet, he may be doing that, too. Evidence looks strong.

Trump is way past the simple disgrace to the United States that Richard Nixon was. And his idiocy is dangerous.

When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked Trump to postpone his State of the Union address, for good reasons, until after the partial government shutdown is over, petty Trump retaliated by postponing an international trip Pelosi was going to make, refusing to allow military aircraft to transport her. That trip was being kept on the down-low for security reasons, until petty Trump released the details.

As the now 28-day shutdown has no end in sight, the only reason 800,000 federal employees, thousands of them in Alabama, aren’t getting paid is because of petty Trump.
Trump refuses to budge on his demand for $5.6 billion for a near-useless wall on the U.S. southern border with Mexico.

The president is stubbornly low-information, ignoring facts that show technology and more border agents will better deter undocumented immigrants entering the country than a physical barrier that can be easily defeated.

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People can climb over walls. They can dig under them. And that’s not the only way they can get through.

Perdido Vineyards’ Jim Eddins, 85, a 1957 graduate of the Naval Academy and a retired colonel from the U.S. Marine Corps, has plenty of experience with walls. He was a combat engineer in the Marines, and he established Perdido Vineyards in 1972 and started Alabama’s first farm winery in 1979.

Walls, Eddins says, have “many useful and peaceful purposes.”

“They support roofs, enclose space, help with privacy and secrecy, help with protection and security, define perimeters and boundaries, help with flood control; they work in prisons, make obstacles,” Eddins says.

But will a wall on the southern border do what petty Trump says it will: Keep out immigrants? Stop the drug trade? Keep terrorists out? Keep us free of these terrible “diseases” the president wrongly claims immigrants bring in?

“No,” Eddins says emphatically. “None of the above.” Those dangers cited by petty Trump are wildly exaggerated anyway, Eddins says.

“Disease? Ebola flies in: mosquitos, birds, animals, vehicles. The history of walls is ancient, as failures for the above reasons,” Eddins says. “A determined aggressor is only temporarily impeded. They tunnel under, fly over, go around, destroy, or breach. (Walls) often cause more damage than they prevent.”

The mobility of modern military criminal forces, with aircraft and explosives (and other technologies) – make a wall particularly vulnerable.

“A wall can very quickly cease to be a defense and become a prison or target,” Eddins says. “Hitting a fixed target is easy. Hitting a moving target is not so simple. Ask a deer hunter or bird hunter.”

Yet, petty Trump demands his wall be paid for by U.S. taxpayers – the one he said Mexico would pay for – or else he’ll keep the government shut. Republicans in Congress, and especially in the U.S. Senate and in Alabama, are complicit in the pettiness.

So, 800,000 federal workers are going without their paychecks, for a full month now and counting, the longest shutdown in U.S. history. For a wall that’ll do little to secure the southern border as petty Trump claims.

Tests have already shown that the wall or barrier or fence – whatever somebody wants to call it – is easily breached. Officials discovered a tunnel under an existing section of wall only a short distance from where Trump was visiting when he was at the Texas border last week. Most drugs come to the United States through the air or hidden in ground vehicles that come through existing border entries. A prototype of the wall Trump wants was sawed through by testers.

But Trump wants it his way or the highway. Democrats and a growing number of Republicans are telling Trump that he can’t always get his way.

“The United States has been wracked with the politics of division, religion, and immigration for its entire history,” Eddins says. “And the lessons of this experience are currently being ignored, and the same mistakes are being made for the self-serving purposes of mind control and a dictatorship.”

Walls are not for a democracy, Eddins says. “A wall is a physical object for dictators to impress foolish people,” he says. “Israel has a wall, and the Palestinians shoot missiles over it. Walls did not stop the Crusaders or Muslims.

“Putting a ‘wall’ around propaganda and sick minds is a logical option,” Eddins says, adding we must fight bad ideas with better ideas. And keep in mind, Eddins says, who is pushing “this noise.”

“Someone with corrupted, evil intent,” Eddins points out. “There are better and less expensive alternatives. It will definitely cost more than $5 billion to build and maintain a wall. In short, a political slogan and promise from a pathological liar is no basis for spending billions on this, especially when political ideology is the only purpose.”

Trump is a legend only in his own mind. His pettiness is the real legend, assaulting all of our tired, frustrated minds. His disastrous term is half over. I don’t know if our nation can survive the next 24 months. We don’t need a wall, and we certainly don’t need Donald Trump.

It is, indeed, Mueller time.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

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Opinion | Mayor Woodfin: Tear down that statue

Josh Moon

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Dear Mayor Woodfin,

Tear it down.

Get a few blow torches and axes, maybe a jackhammer or two, and tear down that Confederate monument in Linn Park. If you’d like, to appease the phony historians out there, save a portion to be put in a museum in town.

But tear it down.

A Jefferson County Circuit Court judge ruled Monday night that you have the authority to remove it, and why wouldn’t you? It’s your city. It’s your city park. You maintain it. You should have complete authority over what goes or what stays in it.

As Judge Michael Graffeo wrote in his order, “Just as the state could not force any particular citizen to post a pro-Confederacy sign in his or her front lawn, so too can the state not commandeer the city’s property for the state’s preferred message.”

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It’s the perfect ruling. Because it’s so obviously accurate.

In fact, numerous people who worked in several cities around the state tried to explain to the legislature that this law was ridiculously encroaching — to the point of being counterproductive.

And a number of attorneys tried to explain to state lawmakers that the overreach was troubling and likely illegal.

But as the Legislature usually does, it ignored those cries of rationality. And instead chose the path of pandering.

Pandering to the most awful among us.

Pandering to the racists. Pandering to those who refuse to believe in an accurate history. Pandering to those who don’t care that statues honoring traitors and murderers offend large numbers of citizens in this state.

How couldn’t they offend black citizens?

Imagine learning stories of the horrific ways that your ancestors were treated — beaten, raped, tortured, bought and sold like cattle, and separated from their children — and then being told there was a statue of the men who did those things in the town square.

If this state’s citizenry had half the decency and morals that we proclaim, we’d be ashamed that we ever had the gall to erect these statues, or to honor the dishonorable men who led the fight to preserve slavery.

But instead, our state’s citizens have been brainwashed by decades of an absurdly whitewashed history, and will, in response to fact-based arguments for why the statues should be removed, talk passionately about the southern general’s great strategic mind or explain that this confederate treated his slaves well or tell you with a straight face that the whole damn thing wasn’t and isn’t about race and slavery.

Quite honestly, Mayor Woodfin, I am tired of the stupidity and the phony arguments and the wink-and-nod racism from closeted racists. They don’t really care if the statue is in the park. It’s not like they’re bringing their families by on Saturday afternoons to have picnics in front of the Confederate monuments and soak in the history.

They only want the statues to remain because those statues are one last poke in the eye to the people who say they have to treat black people as equals.

That’s it.

They get a little demented joy out of knowing that that statue is aggravating the blacks and the libs and the yankees.

That’s why they’ve erected a huge confederate flag beside the Interstate north of Montgomery. It’s why three confederate groups attempted a couple of years ago to put up a large confederate flag across the Interstate from Alabama State University, a historically black college.

And it’s why, most of all, they run around waving a flag that was never an official flag of the Confederacy, but was the battle flag of one confederate army and was later adopted by the KKK and other hate groups.

Because the history doesn’t matter to these people. And those who are interested in it would be just as well served visiting the monuments in a museum.

So, Mayor, I’m suggesting you do the right thing and set an example for other cities around the state to follow.

Tear that statue down.

 

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Opinion | What will our Congressional districts look like after the 2020 Census

Steve Flowers

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Preparations are being made to take the 2020 Census. This process is not just a fun game to spell out demographic changes and interesting tidbits about us as Americans. It is a very important mandate dictated by the Constitution. The number of people counted determines how many seats each state has in Congress. Thus, it is taken every 10-years.

The Country has been changing, demographically, over the last decade, as it always has over the course of history. The states of California, Texas and Florida continue to grow exponentially. All Americans, not just older ones, seek the sun. They like a sunny, warm climate. That is why our neighboring state of Florida is and has been for decades America’s growth state.

Last week I visited with you about our 1940’s Congressional Delegation. At that time we had nine seats. We lost one after the 1960’s census. We lost another after 1980. We are projected to lose another one after this upcoming Census of 2020. We now have seven seats. It is predicted that we will only have six after next year. We most certainly will lose one to California if they are allowed to count illegal immigrants.

The State Legislature is constitutionally designated as the drawer of lines of congressional districts for each respective state. Currently, we have six Republican seats and one Democratic seat. If indeed we drop from seven to six Congressional districts, how will it shake out.

The census will reveal that Huntsville and North Alabama have been our growth spots. Alabama’s population continues to move toward the northern tier of the state. Two out of every three Alabamians live in Birmingham, Hoover, and Tuscaloosa north.

The Black Belt continues to lose population. The census will also reveal quite a disparity of financial prosperity. It will show that the same Black Belt counties are some of the poorest areas of the country and conversely Huntsville will be one of the most prosperous.

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So who are the winners and losers under Congressional redistricting? You start with one premise. You have to have one majority minority African American district. The federal courts have mandated this edict. Therefore, Congresswoman Terri Sewell’s district is sacred. It now is very large, geographically. It will become even larger. The district will take in most of the African American population in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Montgomery, and the entire Black Belt stretching from south of Birmingham and Tuscaloosa all the way to Mobile. It will be a big geographic district and be numbered district six rather than seven.

This leaves us with five Republican districts and six incumbent Republicans. Therefore, who gets the short end of the stick. A cursory look says the odd person out is Martha Roby in the second district.

However, our current delegates have already come up with a plan to save everybody. Mo Brooks, the Congressman from Huntsville, will choose to move up or out in 2022. He is assuming that Senator Richard Shelby retires at age 88. Therefore, Brooks will see his fast-growing Tennessee Valley district divided and delved out to a plan that grows the districts north, which complies with the growth pattern.

Our senior and most seniority laden Congressman, Robert Aderholt, will opt to stay in Congress rather than risk a run for the Senate. This is a very wise and prudent move for him and the state. He has over 24-years in seniority and is in line to be Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He will move north and pick up part of the Huntsville area and he will cut Gadsden loose. Mike Rogers will move north and pick up Gadsden and all of northeast Alabama, which is a more natural fit for him with his native Anniston area.

Rogers’ move north will allow him to abandon Auburn-Opelika, which in turn allows Roby’s district to exist primarily like it is with the population centers of East Montgomery, Elmore, Autauga, and the Wiregrass and Dothan and that district will add Auburn-Opelika.

The current 6th District of Jefferson-Shelby represented by Gary Palmer will remain essentially the same. Its upscale suburbs will make it one of the most Republican in the nation.

The last district seat of Mobile-Baldwin will remain intact and will still be District 1. However, the tremendous growth of Baldwin will require that the district only contain Mobile and Baldwin. The cadre of rural counties north of Mobile that are currently in the District will have to be cut loose to probably go to the Black Belt district.

The current 1st District Congressman, Bradley Bryne, is running for the U.S. Senate in 2020. However, his replacement will be a conservative Republican.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

 

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Opinion | “Cussing” the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

by Joey Kennedy Read Time: 6 min
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