Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth

  • Born: March 18, 1922
  • Died: October 5, 2011
  • Location: Birmingham, Alabama

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In this March 14, 2006 file photo, The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth poses inside of the The Greater New Light Baptist Church in Cincinnati.

Civil rights leader dies at 89

JAY REEVES, The Associated Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — The Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth refused to back down despite huge risks, enduring arrests, beatings and injuries from fire hoses aimed at blacks marching for racial equality in the segregated South of the early 1960s. He died this week at age 89, lauded for his fearlessness in that fight.

When others feared standing up to fire hoses and snarling police dogs in his native Alabama, Shuttlesworth soldiered on with his civil rights campaign. Alabama's first black federal judge, U.W. Clemon, said Shuttlesworth flung himself at injustice well knowing he could be killed at any moment.

"He was the first black man I knew who was totally unafraid of white folks," said Clemon, a practicing lawyer since retired from the bench.

Shuttlesworth died Wednesday at a Birmingham hospital.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, another activist in the civil rights movement led by the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., called Shuttlesworth "fearless, determined, courageous."

Lewis organized his own defiant sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in Nashville, Tenn., in his student days and also met with arrests and physical attacks.

"When others did not have the courage to stand up, speak up and speak out, Fred Shuttlesworth put all he had on the line to end segregation in Birmingham and the state of Alabama," the Georgia Democrat said. "He was beaten with chains, his church was bombed, and he lived under constant threat of physical violence."

In an era of seething racial tensions, Shuttlesworth survived a 1956 bombing, an assault during a 1957 protest, chest injuries when Birmingham authorities turned fire hoses on demonstrators in 1963, and countless arrests. He personally exhorted King to bring his supporters to Birmingham to fight for equality as the civil rights movement gained traction.

King would go on to reap international attention, overshadowing the rest, yet he signaled he himself admired Shuttlesworth.

In his 1963 book "Why We Can't Wait," King himself called Shuttlesworth "one of the nation's most courageous freedom fighters ... a wiry, energetic and indomitable man."

Born March 18, 1922, near Montgomery and raised in Birmingham, Shuttlesworth drove a truck for a time, studied theology by night and was ordained in 1948. He became pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1953 and met King in 1954 — a year before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus.

Televised scenes of police dogs and fire hoses being turned on marchers, even children, in the spring of 1963 helped the rest of the nation grasp the depth of racial animosities in the South.

Referring to the city's notoriously racist safety commissioner, Shuttlesworth would tell followers, "We're telling ol' 'Bull' Connor right here tonight that we're on the march and we're not going to stop marching until we get our rights."

According to a May 1963 New York Times profile of Shuttlesworth, Connor responded to word that Shuttlesworth had been injured by the spray of fire hoses by saying: "I'm sorry I missed it. ... I wish they'd carried him away in a hearse."

Fellow civil rights pioneer the Rev. Joseph Lowery said of Shuttlesworth: "When God made Bull Connor, one of the real negative forces in this country, he was sure to make Fred Shuttlesworth."

In January 1956, King's Montgomery home was bombed while he attended a rally. Months later on Christmas night 1956, 16 sticks of dynamite detonated outside Shuttlesworth's bedroom as he slept at the Bethel Baptist parsonage. No one was injured in either bombing, and the day after he was targeted, Shuttlesworth led a protest against segregation on buses in Birmingham. Then in 1957, he was beaten by a mob when he tried to enroll two of his children in an all-white school in Birmingham.

After the turbulent times ended, Shuttlesworth took up a new chapter.

He remained active in the movement in Alabama and regularly visited but moved in 1961 to Cincinnati, where he was a pastor for most of the next 47 years. In Cincinnati, Shuttlesworth left Revelation Baptist Church and became pastor of the Greater New Light Baptist Church in 1966.

In 2004, he was briefly president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, resigning after about three months complaining board members were trying to micromanage the organization.

He moved back to Birmingham in February 2008 for rehabilitation after a mild stroke.

In November 2008, Shuttlesworth watched from a hospital bed as Barack Obama was elected the nation's first African-American president. The year before, Obama had pushed Shuttlesworth's wheelchair across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma during a commemoration of the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march.

On Wednesday, Obama recalled that moment on the bridge — "a symbol of the sacrifices that he and so many others made in the name of equality." He said Shuttlesworth's fight benefited all Americans and "America owes Reverend Shuttlesworth a debt of gratitude."

___

Associated Press writers Errin Haines in Atlanta, Kendal Weaver in Montgomery, Ala., and Lisa Cornwell in Cincinnati contributed to this report.


Condolence & Memory Journal

My my my thats some legacy Mr Shuttlesworth is leaving. What a courageous man. The family has my sincere sympathy for your loss. Many changes were made by people like Mr Shuttlesworth but total change has to be accomplished by the one who created all things.

Posted by Steele    March 31, 2020

Whoa, things just got a whole lot eaesir.

Posted by Hester - lkcSPJF3sqE2, IN - IHBtE5X39Xvk   December 30, 2014

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God seen a beautiful flower so he went to his garden a pick one and he said unto you come home my child I need you in my garden. God continue to bless this family and strength them with you powers in Jesus Name I pray. AMEN

Posted by Ruby - Sister in Christ   November 01, 2011

My sympathy to the Shuttlesworth family. Fred will be remembered as one of the pioneers in the long struggle for civil rights.

Posted by J Long    October 12, 2011

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Rev. Dr. James Larry Williams and the Mt. Zion Baptist Church Family celebrates the life and legacy of our dear brother in Christ, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. You shall be missed-we continue to stand on your shoulders.

Posted by Mt. Zion Baptist Church of El Paso, TX - Friend   October 11, 2011

We praise God for the integrity, life, and legacy of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. We thank God for allowing him to pass our way. Let the work he has done, speak for him. Let's keep his vision be the light to guide us through the struggle...

Posted by El Paso, TX NAACP Branch - El Paso, TX - Friend   October 11, 2011

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Job well done. Now enter into lasting joy.

Posted by Nena - admirer   October 08, 2011

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Thank you.

Posted by Janice - private citizen   October 08, 2011

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President, Dr. Carroll A. Baltimore, Sr. and the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. (PNBC) extends our deepest sympathies to the family of Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth, a dynamic Pastor and preacher, freedom fighter and civil rights activist.

We were honored to provide a denominational home for Dr. Shuttlesworth, adn grasped nuggets of wisdom as he addressed the PNBC Parent Body during our Freedom Night a few years ago. His riveting accounts of the Civil Rights Movement of the late 50's and 60's reignited a spirit of activism in so many.

He was the last of the civil rights movement's "Big Three"; along with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, who founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957. Rev. Shuttlesworth had the courage to stand up, speak up and speak out. He believed in doing whatever it took to end the evils of segregation. In 1963 when President Kennedy introduced to Congress the legislation that became the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he told King and Shuttlesworth, "But for Birmingham, we would not be here today."

Posted by Dr. Carroll A. Baltimore, Sr. - President, PNBC   October 07, 2011

The Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. (PNBC) extends our deepest sympathies to the family of Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth, a dynamic Pastor and preacher, freedom fighter and civil rights activist.

The PNBC was honored for decades to provide a denominational home for Dr. Shuttlesworth. He pastored several churches in Alabama and Ohio, and always graced us with his presence during our annual sessions. We had the privilege of grasping nuggets of wisdom as he addressed the PNBC Parent Body during our Freedom Night a few years ago. His riveting accounts of the Civil Rights Movement of the late 50's and 60's reignited a spirit of activism in so many.

He was the last of the civil rights movement's "Big Three"; along with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, who founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957. Rev. Shuttlesworth had the courage to stand up, speak up and speak out. He believed in confrontation and doing whatever it took to end the evils of segregation in Birmingham, the state of Alabama, and the world. Dr. King's thought of Rev. Shuttlesworth was, one of the nation's most courageous freedom fighters a wiry, energetic and indomitable man.

He began his life of social activism on May 17, 1954. He saw himself as the arch enemy of Eugene "Bull" Connor, Birmingham's racist police chief. Rev. Shuttlesworth had been shot, bombed twice, beaten into unconsciousness and jailed more than 35 times. Some of his family members also suffered violence and brutality at the hands of segregationist. On Christmas night in 1956 approximately 15 sticks of dynamite exploded beside Rev. Shuttlesworth's parsonage. This did not kill him or his family. It only heightened the burning flame to end segregation. The next day he led 200 people in Birmingham's bus boycott. He later shared that God had made me bomb-proof, and rather blew him into history.

In 1963 when President Kennedy introduced to Congress the legislation that became the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he told King and Shuttlesworth, "But for Birmingham, we would not be here today." The airport in the city of Birmingham bears the name of Rev. Shuttlesworth. The state of Alabama, the United States of America, and our global family owe a great deal to Dr. Fred L. Shuttlesworth; a great American hero of our time.

We will continue to pray for his wife, Mrs. Sephira Bailey Shuttlesworth and the family as we celebrate the life and legacy of Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth.

Respectfully,

Dr. Carroll A. Baltimore, Sr.
President

Posted by Dr. Carroll A. Baltimore, Sr. - Washington, DC - President, PNBC   October 07, 2011

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United States of America is a better place because of the COURAGE of one of God's Men. Thank You Rev. Shuttlesworth WELL DONE!

Posted by Rev Edward A. Allen - A Believer   October 07, 2011

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One of the great civil rights leaders.

Posted by Mary Neal    October 06, 2011

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had the pleasure of listening to him speak a couple years ago at the Civil Rights museum at a presentation for him and his wife...really honored and blessed to be in his company for those few minutes.

Posted by china - an american   October 06, 2011

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He was a true champion of civil rights.

Posted by paulette Kirkwood    October 06, 2011

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You're a true hero!

Posted by Zila Pitkin - none   October 06, 2011

I had not met Rev. Shuttleswoth but learned about his strong beliefs through his daughter Carolyn. His strength during the civil rights movement is his legacy

Posted by Connie Dassinger - Kennesaw, GA   October 06, 2011

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Thank you, thank you, and thank you. If not for your activism, the lives of African Americans would be a great deal much smaller.

Posted by sp - a recipient of your bravery   October 06, 2011

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A smile comes to my face when I think of Mac computers as I remember my first one - a raspberry iMac. I thought that the shape was so cool, and I chose the color to match the decor of the room it went in. What an innovative and creative genius Steve Jobs was. His contributions to the world of computers will live on forever.

Posted by Elise W. Davis    October 06, 2011

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I love you.

Posted by madison hall - Citizen   October 06, 2011

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Have worked in a telephone company when all processing was manual. Now many years later, retired, enjoy my new world. Thanks to you

Posted by Patricia Silva - An admirer   October 06, 2011

I just finished watching Spike Lee's "Four Little Girls" I saw Mr. Shuttlesworth in the documentary. He was an awesome man of God. My condolences to his family.

Posted by Yvonne    October 06, 2011


Default Album

In this March 14, 2006 file photo, The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth poses inside of the The Greater New Light Baptist Church in Cincinnati.
In a June 17, 1963 file photo, the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, left, of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Atlanta, Ga., and the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth of the Revelation Baptist Church of Cincinnati, Ohio, talk to reporters at the White House in Washington, after a conference with President
Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth speaks in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2006. The discovery of previously unpublished photos from the height of the civil rights turmoil in Alabama evokes sharp memories for Shuttlesworth, who fought for equality alongside Martin Luther King Jr.
In a May 8, 1963 file photo, civil rights leaders, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., left, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, center, and Rev. Ralph Abernathy hold a news conference in Birmingham, Ala.
The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, left, stands with former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman after the first day of the sentencing phase of Siegelman's federal corruption trial, Tuesday, June 26, 2007, in Montgomery, Ala.
In this May 15, 1963 picture shows civil rights leader Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth holds a news conference in Birmingham, Ala.

Default Album

The "Big Three" of the Alabama racial movement are shown getting their heads together in Birmingham, May 10, 1963, just before releasing a statement that an accord had been reached on their grievances. Left to right: Revs. Martin Luther King, Jr., Fred Shuttlesworth, and Ralph Abernathy.
The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth prepares his sermon at the Greater New Life Baptist Church in Cincinnati, Sunday, March 19, 2006. Pastor Shuttlesworth is retiring from the Cincinnati church he helped start 40 years ago.