Fred Shuttlesworth, civil rights activist, died at 89

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56g546g45f634Dead, Frederick Lee “Fred” Shuttlesworth on October 5, 2011, he was a U.S. civil rights activist who led the fight against segregation and other forms of racism as a minister in Birmingham, Alabama.

Born in Mount Meigs, Alabama, Shuttlesworth became pastor of the Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1953 and was Membership Chairman of the Alabama state chapter of the NAACP in 1956, when the State of Alabama formally outlawed it from operating within the state.

In May 1956 Shuttlesworth and Ed Gardner established the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights to take up the work formerly done by the NAACP.

Shuttlesworth embraced that philosophy, even though his own personality was combative, headstrong and sometimes blunt-spoken to the point that he frequently antagonized his colleagues in the Civil Rights Movement as well as his opponents.

He was not shy in asking King to take a more active role in leading the fight against segregation and warning that history would not look kindly on those who gave “flowery speeches” but did not act on them.

He alienated some members of his congregation by devoting as much time as he did to the movement at the expense of weddings, funerals, and other ordinary church functions.

When Shuttlesworth and his wife Ruby attempted to enroll their children in a previously all-white public school in Birmingham in 1957, a mob of Klansmen attacked them, with the police nowhere to be seen.

His assailants included Bobby Frank Cherry, who six years later was involved in the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing.

The mob beat Shuttlesworth with chains and brass knuckles in the street while someone stabbed his wife.

Shuttlesworth drove himself and his wife to the hospital where he told his kids to always forgive.

Shuttlesworth later established the Greater New Light Baptist Church in the middle of the 1960s in Cincinnati.

By early 1963, however, King answered Shuttlesworth’s call, and the two organizations launched historic demonstrations in Birmingham.

Building on Shuttlesworth’s seven years of effort, and planned with the assistance of ACMHR members, the Birmingham demonstrations began in April and ended on May 10, 1963, with city businesses agreeing to begin desegregating downtown department stores.

As the events unfolded, international news agencies depicted massive marches that included more than 2,000 youthful protesters, many of whom were arrested and who completely clogged the jails of Birmingham.

Beyond Birmingham the demonstrations pressured President John F. Kennedy to introduce into Congress legislation that eventually became the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

This law effectively ended segregation in public accommodations in the United States, and with the 1965 Voting Rights Act, formed the legislative high-water marks of the civil rights movement.

When meeting with King, Shuttlesworth, and others on the day he introduced the bill, Kennedy remarked, “But for Birmingham, we would not be here today.”

Fast forward to the 1980s, and he founded another organization, the Shuttlesworth Housing Foundation, providing grants for home ownership.

In the new millennium, Shuttlesworth received the Presidential Citizens Medal from Bill Clinton in 2001, with the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport named in his honor in 2008.

Shuttlesworth also became president of the SCLC mid-decade, though he soon left due to disagreements with the internal workings of the organization.

 

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