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 Earlier this month, the board rescinded its offer of the award to Davis and canceled its annual Shuttlesworth Gala.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.
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]
Opinion | Tommy, can you hear me?
That Morning Consult poll of Alabama voters that showed Republican Tommy Tuberville with a 17-point lead over incumbent Democratic Sen. Doug Jones for the U.S. Senate was such a stunner, a Jones campaign aide rushed out an email fundraiser trying to quell any panic.
Until now, most polls have shown Jones to be competitive against an unnamed Republican and, specifically, Tuberville, the former Auburn football coach who defeated Jeff Sessions to win the Republican nomination.
“I would never respond to an outside poll, but a new poll is out there showing Doug Jones losing by … wait for it … 17 points,” writes Joe Trippi, senior adviser for the Doug Jones for Senate campaign.
“Here is my comment,” Trippi writes. “No way.”
Unfortunately, in Alabama, there is a way.
Republicans in the state tend to vote straight ticket in overwhelming numbers. Alabama is one of a handful of states that even allows straight-ticket voting, but the reality is, it does. So voters who want to cast their ballot for, say, Donald Trump in November, but who also like Jones, will have to split their ticket.
The Morning Consult poll showed that a large number of independent voters are undecided, and that could swing the election toward Jones. But straight-party voting can be a hope killer.
Not yet, though. It’s still early. The election is still nearly three months away. We’ve not seen Tuberville do much of anything but bow before Trump, who endorsed him over his former attorney general. But that’s Trump loyalty for you.
Indeed, the country is going so poorly right now, one wonders other than the hard-core racists, who still supports Trump.
I know, I know: Alabama is different (plus, we still have more than our share of hard-core racists). But c’mon, folks, more than 157,300 Americans are dead from the COVID-19 pandemic, completely mismanaged by the Trump administration. There have been more than 4.7 million cases. In Alabama, there have been more than 90,000 cases and more than 1,600 deaths.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and Alabama economies are in shambles and getting worse, not better. Trump has sided with Confederate statues and flags over eliminating the systemic racism found in police departments and other government agencies. Plus, most recently, Trump sent his secret army of unidentified goons to sweep protesters off the streets in American cities.
Trump is nobody’s friend but his own.
Then there’s Tuberville. A decent if mediocre football coach, Tuberville certainly is no Nick Saban. Tuberville isn’t even a Gus Malzahn.
Sessions tried to argue that Tuberville wasn’t a resident of Alabama, either, but that’s not fair. Where Sessions is concerned, unfair is a character trait.
While Tuberville does maintain properties in Florida, he and his wife have owned a home in Auburn for at least three years. Too, they both are registered voters in Alabama, though Sessions said Tuberville cast his ballot in Florida during the 2018 midterms.
What’s more important is where Tuberville stands on the issues. And that, we don’t know much about. We know Jones is a moderate who works with members of both parties. He clearly represents Alabama’s best interests as well as any U.S. senator who has served from Alabama.
Though the loons try to paint Jones as a liberal-socialist-communist bogeyman, he’s nowhere close. Certainly, he’s different from Sessions, who held that Senate seat for two decades before becoming Trump’s attorney general. He’s different from Sessions in that he actually gets legislation through the Senate. Sessions mainly interfered with progress while a senator.
The first U.S. senator to support Trump’s candidacy, Sessions identified with Trump most likely because they’re both die-hard racists. Trump rewarded that loyalty by back-stabbing Sessions out of Washington.
At some point, though, Tuberville must make his positions clear, and not simply that he’ll support anything Trump does. That would be a disaster for Alabama, as much as Trump is a disaster for the United States.
The former Auburn University football coach can’t just continue being a sycophant for Trump, whose own poll numbers are tanking and who is likely not going to win re-election.
Should Alabama send a Republican to represent the state with a Democratic president, a likely Democratic Senate and a solidly Democratic House? That would be useless.
But Trippi, in his email, did show how Tuberville wins easily: “One bad poll turns all of us off … you write the race off, and Tuberville coasts to victory because no one is paying attention,” says Trippi. “Everyone abandons Alabama except Mitch McConnell, who is ALL IN to beat Doug. The proof is in the money he (McConnell) is spending now.”
It’s true that McConnell is working hard to unseat Jones to protect Republicans’ wobbly control of the U.S. Senate, and if they weren’t concerned that Jones has a good shot at winning re-election, McConnell would spend that campaign money in another state.
Tuberville must do more than hide behind Trump. We need to hear Tuberville’s plan, where he stands on the issues and what he’ll bring to Alabama that Jones hasn’t already.
Let’s hear it, Coach Tommy. But you’ll have to scoot back a bit first.
Opinion | Tommy Tuberville ran a good, disciplined campaign for Senate
Old political maxims clearly played out true to form in the GOP runoff for our junior U.S. Senate seat on July 14.
Tommy Tuberville ran a very wise and disciplined campaign. He steadily stayed on point and simply said I am going to support Donald Trump. Undoubtedly , when Tuberville decided about a year ago to leave his Florida home and run for the U.S. Senate in Alabama, whoever was advising him knew that the only issue was going to be who could cozy up to Donald J. Trump the most. They gave Tuberville the script and he followed his playbook to perfection. He never deviated and never got distracted by issues, questions, or debates. He simply rode the Donald Trump horse all the way home.
Trump is very popular among Republican voters in the Heart of Dixie. That same horse will more than likely carry Tuberville to victory over Doug Jones in November. Trump will beat Joe Biden 60–40 in the state and Tuberville’s numbers over Jones should be close to that same margin. There will be a lot of straight ticket voting in the Fall. There are more Republican voters than Democratic voters in Alabama.
Therefore, Tuberville’s victory illustrates two cardinal maxims of Alabama politics. Number one is more people vote against someone or something than for someone or something. Trump said he did not like Jeff Sessions and asked Alabama GOP voters to vote against him and they obliged Trump. Secondly, Tuberville kept it simple. He epitomized the old saying, “Keep it simple stupid.” It is called the KISS formula. He stayed on message just like a parrot. He did not have to say much. Trump said it all. It also accrued to Tuberville’s advantage that he was a nonpolitician and Washington outsider. Sessions had sat in this seat in the Senate for 20 years.
Coach Tuberville began the race with some significant name identification. Thus, the third maxim, you must have name identification before you have a chance to win. People are not going to vote for someone they have never of. Tuberville’s name identification numbers were 35% going into the race, which was about as high as Jeff Sessions and a little higher than Bradley Byrne. That is truly a testament to how popular college football is in Alabama.
It had been 10 years since Tuberville had coached at Auburn, but Auburn fans traditionally stick together. I suspect every Auburn football fan in the state voted for Tuberville. It is like one big family. It is not just called the loveliest village on the plains, it is also referred to as the friendliest place you ever visited.
Coincidentally and ironically, Tuberville’s victory is a carbon copy of another Auburn man’s victory for governor 32 years ago. Forrest “Fob” James won the 1978 Governor’s race with the same KISS formula as Tuberville.
Fob James had become wealthy by starting and running a barbell manufacturing company in Opelika. When Fob signed up to run for governor, the press wrote him off as a rich gadfly. Fob quietly used his millions to sign up the most brilliant campaign media strategist in the South, Deloss Walker. Fob was told by Walker never deviate from the script I give you and do not answer any questions.
There were three heavy weights expected to finish first, second and third. Former Governor Albert Brewer, Attorney General Bill Baxley, and Lt. Governor Jere Beasley. As Walker expected, all three spent their time and money beating up on each other while Fob rode a yellow school bus over the state simply saying I am getting back to the basics, reading, writing and arithmetic. Thus, more people vote against someone and the KISS formula.
Walker’s initial polling showed that Fob actually had some name identification from being an Auburn football player in the 1950’s. He was a pretty good halfback. That poll also picked up that Auburn Alumni yearned for an Auburn man to become governor.
In this most recent race, it helped Tuberville immensely that the Alabama Farmers Federation (ALFA) endorsed him early in his quest. This key endorsement gave him credibility and early impetus. Most of the farmers on the endorsement committee by the way are Auburn graduates and Auburn football fans.
The more things change the more they stay the same.
See you next week.
Opinion | The inevitable is inevitable
Donald Trump, in full panic mode – and that’s dangerous for the nation – floated the idea Thursday morning in (of course) a tweet that perhaps the Nov. 3 election should be delayed.
We knew it was coming. One event Trump does not want this year is an election. He’s completely bungled the federal (and state) response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and, in fact, made it much worse. More than 150,000 Americans are dead; hundreds of thousands more permanently injured. That’s because Trump basically golfed, held rallies, touted fake cures and treatments for the virus, and, as a result, destroyed the economy and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of American lives.
Of course, Trump wants to delay the election. He’s so dim, he believes that’s the only way he can stay in office. Except, like on most things, he’s wrong. The president’s term ends Jan. 20, 2021. After that, if there isn’t a president to inaugurate, that opens the possibility House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could become president. That is choice.
But it won’t happen. Because the November General Election will not be delayed. The president can’t do it on his own. It takes an act of Congress to move an election. Remember, too, that if the presidential election is delayed, so are the congressional races. That could conceivably keep Republicans in control of the Senate when an election could very well give that control to Democrats.
That won’t happen, either. Because the November General Election will not be delayed.
Besides, this nation held elections during the U.S. Civil War and in world wars and during other crises and pandemics.
My bet is both of Alabama’s U.S. senators, Richard Shelby and Doug Jones, will oppose moving the election. Jones, a Democrat, is on the ballot against Trump sycophant and former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville. Jones wants the matchup, because he’s faring well in the polls, and he’s clearly the far better candidate. Shelby is a pragmatist. He knows in the long run (and short run, for that matter), there’s only a dead end for Trump. Shelby usually will go along to get along, but he broke ranks with other mainstream Republican politicians in 2017 by opposing the election of alleged child predator and former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore.
Too bad other Alabama Republicans in Congress are so far up Trump’s ample bootie that they won’t stand up to him. That’s the way of Republicans, though: Party over country; billionaires over the workaday folks. Weirdly, in Alabama, most common folks support Republicans who want to keep them on the margins; Republicans, who want to keep them in their “place.”
Here’s the real reason Trump would like to see the election postponed:
Trump is terrified. The most important factor to him in the election is himself, and he’s going to get clobbered, if polls hold.He needs to somehow save face if there is any way possible, and there likely isn’t any way possible. Every day Trump spouts something else offensive, or insulting, or just plain stupid and idiotic. He supports Confederate flags and generals and statues, sends secret police to round up Black Lives Matter protesters, then refuses to accord proper respect to honor the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, an Alabama native and one of the most distinguished civil rights leaders in the nation.
Former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama attended Lewis’ final memorial in Atlanta on Thursday. Trump suggested we delay November’s election.
Every day, Trump’s support wanes.
The economy is close to complete collapse, and Republicans in the Senate and the president can’t figure out the next COVID-19 aid package to help hurting Americans. Democrats in the House passed a plan more than a month ago, a plan to keep unemployment benefits flowing, to support schools, to increase COVID-19 testing. The Republican plan has billions for fighter aircraft, a new FBI building near Trump’s Washington hotel, and, yes, more tax breaks for the nation’s richest people. Oh, and it slashes federal unemployment support for those workaday Americans from $600 a week to $200 a week. A $1,600 a month pay cut. Nice.
Trump and Republicans have walled themselves into a bad place, and, unlike the president’s boondoggle border wall, this wall isn’t easily scaled or breached.
Republicans, and especially Trump, want to delay the inevitable. But here’s the problem with that: The inevitable is, yes, inevitable.
Opinion | It will be Trump vs. Biden in November. Conventions will be anticlimactic
The presidential race is onward. It will be incumbent Republican Donald Trump vs. former Vice President and 36-year veteran Democrat, Delaware U.S. Senator Joe Biden in the November 3rd General Election.
Both men have clinched their parties’ nomination. Therefore, the Democratic convention, July 31-August 2 and the Republican convention set for August 25-28 will be anticlimactic. It is doubtful that either convention will break any television rating records.
However, there will be one record shattered in this year’s presidential contest. Trump and Biden will be the two oldest presidential contenders in history. Biden is 78 and Trump is 74. Actually, Trump was the oldest person to ever be sworn in as president four-years ago. So if Biden wins he will really break the record at 78.6 years. By the way, the youngest president was John F. Kennedy, who was 43 when he was sworn in as president in January of 1961.
This has already been one of the most unusual presidential election years in American history. The COVID-19 pandemichas turned the world upside down, especially the American economy. The economy is the pivotal issue that decides presidential elections. Prior to the pandemic, the economy was Trump’s trump card. The economic collapse caused by the pandemic was not Trump’s fault but it happened on his watch. There is an old political maxim that says, “If you claim credit for the rain, then you gotta take blame for the drought.”
Trump was not in the lead prior to the pandemic disaster. He is certainly behind the eight ball today. The country is divided like never before in our history. You either live in a red Republican state like Alabama or a blue Democratic state like California. Under the electoral college system of selecting our president, the election is won or lost in the swing states like Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Minnesota.
Current polling has Biden ahead in all of these pivotal states. He has double digit leads in Michigan and his birth home of Pennsylvania. It looks like Joe Biden is favored to be the next president at almost 80 years old. Therefore, it is extremely important who he chooses as his running mate to be vice president.
Biden has unequivocally stated that his vice–president will be a female. His choice probably will boil down to California Senator Kamala Harris. Originally, it was between Minnesota Senator, Amy Klobuchar and Senator Kamala Harris.
Senator Klobuchar would have been an excellent choice. She was well qualified and thoroughly vetted. She is Minnesota’s senior senator having represented her native state since 2006. She is very popular in her home state and would probably have brought the swing state of Minnesota into the Democratic column.
However, she withdrew her name for consideration after it became apparent that the Democratic Party base demanded Biden choose a female candidate of color.
Senator Kamala Harris, 55, has had a stellar career. She is very well qualified to be president. She ran an excellent campaign for the Democratic nomination earlier this year and is a U.S. Senator from the largest state in the Union.
She was Attorney General of California prior to being elected to the U.S. Senate from the Golden State. She classifies herself as African–American. Her mother was an Indian/American/Canadian cancer researcher. Her father was a Jamaican born businessman.
By selecting Senator Kamala Harris, Biden chooses a person of non-white ethnicity. African American women are the heart and soul of the Democratic Party and the most reliable Democratic voters. Senator Harris would energize the base. Turnout is the key to any election.
Odds are that if Joe Biden is elected president in November, he will probably be a one-term president. At almost 80, it is doubtful that he would run again in 2024. Therefore, his choice for his running mate and vice president would be favored to be elected president in four years and could become president before then.
There is a tried and true maxim in politics, more people vote against someone than for someone. The Democrats’ plan of attack is for Biden to do nothing, say nothing and let Trump beat himself.
It will be an interesting and important choice for Biden as he or his advisors select his vice-presidential running mate. Again, turnout is the key. Therefore, do not count Donald Trump out until it is all over. Republican voters who are older turnout to vote at a higher rate than Democratic voters who are younger. You can bet your bottom dollar that Trump will carry Alabama over Biden in November.
See you next week.