This is not something often heard in the state of Alabama in recent years, but there is some good news for progressives, civil rights, and women’s rights advocates in the state. Birmingham’s own Angela Davis will be speaking at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Alys Stephens Center on March 30th for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and NAACP sponsored “Women’s History Celebration.”
As fellow activist/scholar Cornel West remarked a few weeks ago in response to a question about the current political climate of Alabama, “the south does have a rich tradition of progressives. It might be thin, but it’s strong.” Undoubtedly, Davis represents one of those prominent links in the history of native southerners who have struggled for social justice; a struggle which has taken place even in the midst of a political environment which has a historical tendency towards reactionary and intolerant views and policy.
Surprisingly, on February 14th of this year, what has shown itself to be an increasingly right-wing body – the Alabama House of Representatives – voted in favor of a joint resolution which would honor Ms. Davis in response to her scheduled visit. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Oliver Robinson, D-Birmingham, who stated, “She was a part of our history when I was growing up… She was very important in the movement to self-belief and independence. I think it’s a wonderful idea at this time to honor her and bring her back as much as possible.”
Apparently, even many calcitrant conservatives were able to take off their political blinders momentarily and admit that she has played an important role in history and should be recognized by the state for her achievements and legacy.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the state’s current governor, Dr. Robert Bentley. What will likely be a jubilant homecoming for Davis may be a bit tempered due to the response of Gov. Bentley to the said resolution. Jennifer Ardis, his spokeswoman, reported that he has refused to sign the document due to his stated, “reservations about commending someone who had leadership ties to the Communist Party.” Such a statement strongly echoes California Governor Ronald Reagan’s response to Davis’s appointment to the faculty of the University of California, Los Angeles in 1969; the major difference being that the Cold War has been over for more than 20 years.
Not even a year after the fall of the Soviet Union, in 1992, a stamp was released by the USPS in its “Black Heritage” series which featured the legendary scholar/activist W.E.B. Dubois, a prominent Communist Party member in the later years of his life. Such a move by the federal agency seemed to signal a clearing away of the ideological fog which had so often characterized US thinking during the red scare and throughout the cold war, yet now over 20 years later, the Governor’s office in Alabama still appears to be suffering from such a thick haze.