Goodbye, Rev. Shuttlesworth

October 5th was a rough day for civil rights leaders: Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, who not only helped establish and lead non-violent anti-segregation actions and the civil rights movement as we know it but also took the right to protest right up to the Supreme Court, passed away yesterday. He stared the devil in the face over and over and over, and was repeatedly injured, threatened and nearly killed. From the WaPo obit:

Rev. Shuttlesworth faced down violence from police and racist mobs soon after he began preaching in Birmingham in 1953. In December 1956, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregation of buses in Montgomery, Ala., was illegal, he announced that he would challenge other discriminatory laws in court.

On Christmas Day that year, 15 sticks of dynamite exploded beneath his bedroom window. The floor was blown out from under him, but he received only a bump on the head.

“I believe I was almost at death’s door at least 20 times,” he told the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education in 2001. “But when the first bomb went off, it took all fear from my mind. I knew God was with me like he was with Daniel in the lions’ den. The black people of Birmingham knew that God had saved me to lead the fight.”

In 1957, when Rev. Shuttlesworth tried to enroll his children in a white school, he was beaten unconscious with chains, baseball bats and brass knuckles by a Ku Klux Klan mob. His wife was stabbed in the hip.

“He was a tested warrior,” civil rights activist Jesse L. Jackson said Wednesday in an interview. “He was bombed. He was beaten. He was the soul of the Birmingham movement.”

Rev. Shuttlesworth’s biographer, Andrew Manis, told the Birmingham News in 1999: “There was not a person in the civil rights movement who put himself in the position of being killed more often than Fred Shuttlesworth.”

Rev. Shuttlesworth was arrested more than 30 times and, Manis said, was involved in “more cases in which he was either a defendant or a plaintiff that reached the Supreme Court than any other person in American history.”

Harassment of Rev. Shuttlesworth knew no limits. The Alabama Supreme Court refused to consider one of his legal appeals because it was submitted on paper of the wrong size. In 1960, nine police officers boarded a bus and arrested his three teenage children for refusing to sit in the back.

“We’re tired of waiting,” Rev. Shuttlesworth said at a 1963 rally. “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.”

In May 1963, Rev. Shuttlesworth was hospitalized after being struck by a blast from a high-pressure fire hose in Birmingham.

“I waited a week to see Shuttlesworth get hit with a hose,” Connor said. “I’m sorry I missed it.”

Told that Rev. Shuttlesworth had been taken away in an ambulance, Connor replied, “I wish they’d carried him away in a hearse.”

The whole thing is worth a read. People throw around words like “brave” and “hero” a lot, but they definitely apply here.

About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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3 Responses to Goodbye, Rev. Shuttlesworth

  1. I am proud that we called the same city home. This is greatly in contrast to other people I could mention. (See: Hoover High School, Class of 1999)

  2. Alison says:

    I read a good deal about him not long ago. What an amazing person, amazing life. To think of having all of the memories he would have had…it’s overwhelming.

    RIP.

  3. debbie says:

    Sadly, I had never heard of him before you posted this. He sounds like he was an amazing man.

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