Obit of the Day: Civil Rights Leader Fred Shuttlesworth
Birmingham, Alabama was the center of much of the battle for civil rights for African Americans during the 1960s. The Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth stood boldly in the front of those fights whether it was for the addition of black police officers to the Birminham force, the desegregation of bus depots, or standing up to the legendary racist police commissioner Bull Connor.
Rev. Shuttlesworth even challenged the national face of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He not only convinced King to bring his movement to Birmingham but called him out at meetings of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which Shuttlesworth helped found, for not being aggressive enough.
Shuttleworth’s most controversial, yet effective, move was to organize the “Children’s Crusade.” On May 3, 1963 thousands of elementary, high school, and college students marched into the Birmingham business district. Bull Connor used all available resources to stop the marchers including high-pressure fire hoses and German Shepherds. The images from that day, showing children attacked by dogs or being knocked to the ground by hoses helped turn public opinion against Connor and Birmingham’s white leadership.
Two years earlier, Rev. Shuttlesworth was instrumental in the success of the Freedom Riders, who attempted to desegregate bus depots that were illegally separating blacks from whites. Originally against the rides, when he recognized the determination of the young people to make the trip he helped organize the buses with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). After the Riders were attacked in Anniston and Birmingham, Alabama, Shuttlesworth received a phone call from Attorney General Robert Kennedy assuring the safety of the Riders by the federal government.
Note: After reading this, make time to watch the PBS/American Experience documentary Freedom Riders. Gripping.
Rev. Shuttlesworth who dealt with numerous death threats and even saw his own home bombed, was considered to be the “man most feared by Southern racists.”
He was 89.
(Image courtesy of mysanantonio.com. Here is the caption:
The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth (center) and Freedom Riders discuss plans at Birmingham, Ala., Greyhound Terminal, May 15, 1961, after drivers refused to carry them any farther. Later, the riders caught a plane out of Birmingham to New Orleans. Surrounding Shuttlesworth, clockwise from left: Ed Blankenheim, kneeling, Charles Person, Ike Reynolds, James Peck, Rev. Benjamin Cox, and two unidentified Freedom Riders. (AP Photo/The Birmingham News) Photo: Associated Press File Photo, Anonymous / AP1961)