Campaign News
October 24, 2011

Shuttlesworth honored, remembered for courage

Dennis Washington   ·   ·  Link to Article


Thousands of people gathered Monday in Birmingham to pay their final respects to the late Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a pioneer of civil rights during the city's racial struggles of the 1950's and 1960's.

Hundreds of family members and thousands of friends from around the country gathered at the Faith Chapel Christian Center in west Birmingham Monday for the funeral. During the service, Shuttlesworth was honored for his legacy and remembered as a source of strength and hope.

"This is the celebration of the life of an AMAZING man," said Thomas Wilder, Jr., pastor of Bethel Baptist Church where Shuttlesworth pastored nearly 10 years. "He was a man who was a servant to all mankind. He was noted as one whom God continued to deliver from evil time after time. Whether it was bombs, jails, beatings, criticism, God brought him through, and he always came out with that grin on his face, more convinced God was on his side. This is the essence of Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth."

Gov. Robert Bentley called Shuttlesworth a man who championed the rights to equality and fairness and freedom.

"Fred Shuttlesworth was a fighter," Shuttlesworth said. "He made our state better than it was."

Bentley said Shuttlesworth was also a teacher.

"I believe racism is a learned behavior," Bentley said. "Children aren't born to hate children of differnet races... they learn it from their parents or a mis-directed society. Fred Shuttlesworth and the men and women who stood along with him taught us the need to teach our children to accept one another. Fred Shuttlesworth was a great teacher, and we as a state and nation are forever changed for the lessons he taught us."

Sephira Shuttlesworth, widow of Civil Rights leader Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth was unable to attend all of the funeral. She fell Sunday during a civil rights history panel discussion on the legacy of her husband at the Birmingham Museum of Art and hurt her arm and shoulder.  Rev. Wilder said she cracked her shoulder and was brought to the church Monday on a stretcher. He said she was medicated for the pain and appeared before the church after Bentley spoke to pay her final respects.

James Cole, deputy attorney general of the United States, spoke on behalf of President Obama, who was unable to attend, and read a letter Obama wrote to the family.

"Fred Shuttlesworth's life was a testament to the human spirit," Cole read from the letter. "Because of his leadership, America is a more just place."

Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) called Shuttlesworth a "man of steel."

"He was fearless," Lewis said. "Each time racism reared its ugly head, he tried to erase segregation from our land. He helped liberate an entire nation from the burden of hate and racism."

"He never ever lost faith in the power of love to overcome hate," Lewis added.

Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) recognized Shuttlesworth and other freedom fighters as a key reason for her becoming the first black woman elected to Congress in Alabama.

"I know I drink deep from wells I did not dig," Sewell said. "Fred Shuttlesworth dug the holes from which my generation digs so deeply."

Birmingham Mayor William Bell said Shuttlesworth will long live in our memories.

"Through his courage, vision, wisdow, he changed the world," Bell said. "When you think you can't make a different, just remember what Fred Shuttlesworth did.

Isaac Newton Farris Jr., nephew of the late Martin Luther King, Jr., and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said Shuttlesworth embodied the spirit of the Birmingham movement.

"Never did he falter," Farris said. "He always kept moving forward for the cause for freedom and justice.

"He was also about righteousness," Farris added. "He made a committment to fight racism with his body and soul, with uncompromising non-violence. He was willing to give his life, and almost lost his life. It was a miracle he lived as long as he did. Surely he was protected by God."

Rev. Calvin Woods, president of the Birmingham chapter of the SCLC, said Shuttlesworth was an activist, not an actor.

"He was annoited and appointed by God," Woods said. "He engendered courage and faith within the hearts of many women, boys and girls."

Dr. Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, used the funeral to voice his opposition to Alabama's immigration law.

"Perhaps the best way to pay tribute to him is to stand up against evil and injustice and racism as it has resubscribed itself in the most draconian immigration law in the United States of America," Warnock said. "Stand up for brown brothers and sisters. Say no to segregation. It was wrong in the 1950s and 1960's and it is wrong now.

"'Show us your ID' sounds like 'Jim Crowe' to me, Warnock continued. "You say they are illegal. These are just words you make up. Immigration was illegal and segregation was legal."

Warnock closed his remarks with a comparison to the famous speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.

"I can still hear Martin Luther King, Jr., say, 'I have a dream, that one day in the state of Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor and his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, that one day black sisters and black brothers and brown sisters and brothers and white sisters and brothers will all be able to join hands together."

Doug Jones, former U.S. Attorney, also sounded off on immigration.

"I think Fred would ask today, 'Where is the moral courage in Alabama?' Where is the moral courage when our state legislators stand before a press conference and announce that they are going to defend a law that drives people from Alabama and people from their families, and they do so in the name of states' rights," Jones said. "I think Fred would look at that and say, 'I think we've heard that before.' Fred would ask where is the moral courage to remove racist politics that still infect the halls of government in Montgomery, Alabama. Where is the moral courage to put Alabama back on the road to civil rights and human rights that was blazed so many years ago."

Martin Luther King III, son of Martin Luther King, Jr., said it is hard to imagine the civil rights movement in Birmingham without Fred Shuttlesworth.

"The man we honor today was not an unsung hero in this community and throughout the nation," King said. "His courage was legendary and his integrity was known to be incorruptible by all who knew him."

Andrew Young, former mayor of Atlanta, said we would not have had a black president had it not been for Fred Shuttlesworth and others pushing for civil rights in Birmingham in the 1950's and 1960's.

"Fred Shuttlesworth was a hell raiser," Young said. "He raised the cloud of hell off of Birmingham and let the beauty of Birmingham shine through."

The funeral also included numerous musical selections, including performances by Ruben Studdard, Peter Yarrow, Eric Essix, and Pastor Donnie McClurkin.

The funeral began shortly after 10 a.m and wrapped up at about 4:15 p.m.  A private burial was held shortly afterwards at Oak Hill Cemetery in Birmingham.

Monday's funeral wrapped up a weekend of services honoring the civil rights leader. Thousands came out Saturday and Sunday at various locations around Birmingham, including the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, to pay their respects.

Shuttlesworth passed away Oct. 5th after an extended illness. He was 89. Shuttlesworth, born in Mount Meigs, AL, in 1922, was very active as a preacher of the gospel and civil rights in Birmingham during the 1950's. He served as pastor of Birmingham's Bethel Baptist Church from 1953 through 1961. He was beaten and arrested numerous times for his activism and was the target of several acts of violence, including the bombing of his house on Christmas Day in 1956 and a beating in front of the old Phillips High School in 1957.

[To see WBRC civil rights videos and exclusive interviews with Fred Shuttlesworth, visit the WBRC Civil Rights Vault:]

Shuttlesworth formed the Alabama Christian Rights Movement and helped create the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, of which he was secretary for many years.

Shuttlesworth left Alabama in 1961 and moved to Cincinatti to become pastor of Revelation Baptist Church and, later, Greater Light Baptist Church, where he continued to work against racism. However, he frequently returned to Alabama to continue efforts to end racism. Shuttlesworth organized numerous lunch counter sit-ins and bus boycotts during the 1960's. He also helped organize the Freedom Rides and Project C.

In 2000, Shuttlesworth was awarded the President's Citizens Medal by President Clinton. He returned to Birmingham after his retirement in 2007.

In October 2008, the Birmingham Airport Authority changed the name of the Birmingham International Airport to Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport.

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