as “one of the nation’s most courageous freedom fighters.”
Not everyone supported Shuttlesworth’s efforts.
After the NAACP was banned from operating in Alabama, Shuttlesworth announced plans to form a new group, the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights.
“One Black minister told Shuttlesworth the Lord wanted him to call off the meeting,” Davidson wrote. “Shuttlesworth replied, ‘When did the Lord start sending my messages through you?…The Lord told me to call it on.'”
In September 1957, three years after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision outlawing segregated public schools, Shuttlesworth led a group that included his wife, Ruby, and their two daughters, Patricia and Ruby, to integrate Phillips High School. Shuttlesworth was savagely beaten by White segregationists wielding knives, brass knuckles, bicycle chains and baseball bats. His wife was stabbed and one of their daughters’ ankle was crushed in their car door.
When doctors at the hospital expressed surprise that Shuttlesworth hadn’t suffered a concussion or broken bones, he remarked, “The Lord knew I lived in a hard town, so he gave me a hard head.”
Hard-headed Shuttlesworth was not afraid to act.
“On the Freedom Rides in May 1961, he took action when others were stricken, immobilized by fear,” recalled John Lewis, now a member of Congress. “When Bull Connor, commissioner of Public Safety Birmingham, put Freedom Riders out in the heart of danger near the lonely Alabama/Tennessee state line, people were afraid to help us after a bus had been burned in Anniston. It was a brave and daring Fred Shuttlesworth who did not hesitate to meet us at the Greyhound Bus station and then even entertained us at his home, along with 12 others, before we returned to the rides.”
It was the 1963 Birmingham campaign that made Shuttlesworth famous.
Grainy black-and-white television images of police dogs and fire hoses turned on protesters, including children, awakened the nation’s moral conscience that spring and was instrumental in President John F. Kennedy’s decision to sign the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Firemen aimed high-powered hoses at Shuttlesworth, knocking him up against a wall.
Eugene “Bull” Connor, told reporters, “I’m sorry I missed it… I wish they’d carry him away in a hearse.”
They didn’t. Shuttlesworth lived another 48 years and his name is immortalized in Birmingham. A street is named in his honor, a statue of him stands in front of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and three years ago, the airport was renamed the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport.
There will be three days of memorials to Shuttlesworth in Birmingham, beginning Oct. 22 and culminating with his funeral Oct. 24.
Bishop Calvin Woods, president of the Birmingham chapter of SCLC, told the Birmingham News, “He was a hard man for a hard town, who dealt with problems in a way no one else had ever dealt with them. He was a man of love, courage, faith, and he certainly was man of action. Because of his courage, he engendered courage in many of us.”
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator and media coach. He can be reached through his website, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.