REVEREND FRED L. SHUTTLESWORTH: A TRUE AMERICAN HERO
Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth. Few of us, probably, have heard his name. All of us should have.
Rev. Shuttlesworth has spent his life as the pastor of several Baptist churches. But he is best known for what he did while he served at the Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL.
In 1956, Rev. Shuttlesworth organized the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. In December, of that year, the Supreme Court ruled that bus segregation in Montgomery, AL was illegal. Immediately, Rev. Shuttlesworth announced that the ACMHR would test segregation laws in Birmingham, the largest city in the state.
As president of this newly organized movement, Rev. Shuttlesworth uttered these prophetic words: “they can outlaw an organization, but they cannot outlaw the movement of a people determined to be free.”
Rev. Shuttlesworth's civil rights activities made him a target of white racists, and on the evening of 25th December, 1956, he survived a bomb blast that destroyed his house. The Ku Klux Klan blew up his home with 16 sticks of dynamite. The floor beneath him was blown away. He emerged unscathed.
The following year a mob beat Rev. Shuttlesworth with whips and chains during an attempt to enroll his daughters in an all-white public high school in Birmingham.
During this period, Dr. Martin Luther King described Rev. Shuttlesworth as "the most courageous civil rights fighter in the South".
In 1957, Rev. Shuttlesworth joined Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy and Bayard Rustin to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Based in Atlanta, Georgia, the main objective of the SCLC was to coordinate and assist local organizations working for the full equality of African Americans. The new organization was committed to using nonviolence in the struggle for civil rights, and adopted the motto: "Not one hair of one head of one person should be harmed." Rev. Shuttlesworth served as SCLC's secretary from 1958-1970.
In 1960, Rev. Shuttlesworth participated in the sit-in protests against segregated lunch counters. In 1961, he helped the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) organize its Freedom Rides.
Reverend Shuttlesworth is probably best known for leading the mass demonstrations against segregation in Birmingham. He had many run-ins with Eugene "Bull" Connor, the Birmingham commissioner of safety who used tactics such as fire hoses and dogs to stop protesters. In May, 1963, firefighters used a 75 mph stream of water from a fire hose to pin Rev. Shuttlesworth against an outside wall of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. After being knocked off his feet by the impact, he was hospitalized for his injuries.
In March 1965, Rev. Shuttlesworth helped organize the historic march from Selma to Montgomery. The march was organized to protest voting discrimination in Alabama.
All of these actions helped create the pressures that led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which were central to the end of legalized segregation in the South. They also led to advances in civil rights for many groups over the second half of the century.
Howard K. Smith, Commentator for the May, 1961 National Televised Documentary, “Who Speaks For Birmingham,” called Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth “The man most feared by the Southern racist”. He further described him as follows: “No history written on the Civil Rights Movement would be complete unless it included the name of Rev. Shuttlesworth, Pastor of the Greater New Light Baptist Church, Cincinnati, Ohio. Rev. Shuttlesworth has given more of himself for the “Cause of Freedom” than any man living today. “
Reverend Shuttlesworth has been: • bombed --twice • beaten by racists • jailed more than 25 times • involved in more than 36 criminal and civil actions • sued for 3.5 million dollars, losing all of his property including his automobile Yet, he is more determined than ever to see the Birmingham struggle, which is now a nationwide Civil Rights struggle, end in victory.
Reverend Shuttlesworth has continued his work for social justice ever since, as: • pastor of the Greater New Light Baptist Church • director of the Shuttlesworth Housing • Foundation, an organization which helps low- • income families to buy their own homes • Executive Director and CEO of the SCLC He spent a great deal of time during the last election making sure that people who thought they were registered to vote actually were.