Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth

Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth

The Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth, a Baptist minister, was a civil rights activist in Birmingham, Alabama earning him praise from Martin Luther King as, “the most courageous civil rights fighter in the South.”

Early on Christmas Day1956, dynamite was placed under Rev. Shuttlesworth’s bedroom window. Though the explosion destroyed the house, Shuttlesworth and his family were uninjured. When a police officer saw Shuttlesworth emerge unscathed from the ruins, he warned: “If I were you, I’d get out of town as quick as I could.” To which the Reverend replied: “I wasn’t saved to run”. Even though the U.S. Supreme Court had recently ruled segregated buses unconstitutional, on December 26, he led a group that integrated Birmingham’s buses. 21 persons were arrested.He immediately sued the State.

Shuttlesworth was born in 1922 and graduated from Selma University (1951) and from Alabama State College (1953). He served as pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham and was an officer in the Alabama chapter of the NAACP. When Alabama outlawed the NAACP, Shuttlesworth helped form the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. It was that commitment and courage which characterized his civil rights activities in Birmingham. The following year, he and his wife had to be hospitalized after they were beaten with chains and baseball bats by a mob when they attempted to register their children in an all white public school. He told the attending physician: “The Lord knew I was going to live in a hard town, so he gave me a hard head.”

In1963, Shuttlesworth asked MLK to come to Birmingham to help organize “Project C”: the “C” stood for confrontation. Shuttlesworth had been negotiating with city leaders for a peaceful abandonment of segregation.But he also believed they would not take any positive steps if they were not forced to do so. He wanted to create a crisis that would force the business and political leaders to fulfill the promises they had made. The violent police commissioner, Eugene “Bull” Conner unwittingly played into Shuttlesworth’s hands by upsetting the business community with his inhumane tactics. When King joined Shuttlesworth’s campaign in Birmingham, a decision was made to ask children to be part of the demonstrations. Thousands of school children were arrested, but it was Bull Conner’s use of police dogs and fire hoses on the peacefully demonstrating children in the city park that profoundly affected the American public toward the civil rights struggle.

Later Shuttlesworth moved to Cincinnati, Ohio where he pastored the New Light Baptist Church. He founded the Shuttlesworth Housing Foundation to assist poor people in finding affordable homes. He retired in 2006 on his 84th birthday.