Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth’s church in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed the first time on December 25th, 1956. It was bombed three times. In that first bombing, dynamite was placed right outside his bedroom window in the parsonage. Though it suffered severe damage, Rev. Shuttlesworth walked away unhurt. He immediately sent word to the Klan that nothing, including bombing, could make him move away or stop organizing.
Growing up in the South of the early 1960’s, I have vivid memories of watching civil rights marches in Birmingham on TV. I marveled at the bravery and determination of the marchers as the fire hoses and police dogs were turned lose on them. But it wasn’t until several years later that I learned Rev Shuttlesworth was leading them.
Rev. Shuttlesworth’s fingerprints are all over the history of the Civil Rights movement. He was a founder with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Rev Joseph Lowery, Ella Baker, Bayard Rustin and many others of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
Rev. Shuttlesworth also was a great leader of the earlier Southern Conference Education Fund (SCEF) that helped pioneer much of the civil rights movement in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. Heavily redbaited by racist anti-integration forces and political figures, SCEF refused to give in to the McCarthyite anti-communism of the day and remained a mainstay of the fight for civil rights and economic justice in the South.
Rev Shuttlesworth also helped lead many other important civil rights, economic and social justice organizations in the South. He was a founder, with Anne Braden, of the Southern Organizing Committee for Economic and Social Justice, (SOC for short). I first met him when he was meeting and mentoring young folks from the Southern Student Organizing Committee, a group that worked on civil rights, anti-war, labor and economic justice issues throughout the South.
Later I saw him in action at early meetings of SOC in the 70’s where he always played a role of calling for action and being blunt about who and what the movements were up against. His dogged determination to resist the powers of racism and inequality were legendary, as the Klan and the notorious “Bull” Conner learned in Birmingham. Along with his strong faith he stood in front of many an oppressor to lead in struggle. He will be missed. He helped jolt many into action that continue his fierce fight for justice and equality both today and tomorrow, until we win.