Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth
(1922 — 2011)


As remembered by Hunter Gray
October 5, 2011

Fred Shuttlesworth, long identified with Birmingham, has passed away and into the fog. He's one of the Southern civil rights leaders of that long, long struggle that I knew fairly well. Not nearly as well or as long as I knew Ella Baker and certainly not as well as I knew Medgar Evers. But Fred, who became national secretary of SCLC and who earlier organized and led what became its Alabama component, and later and concurrently, was president of the Southern Conference Educational Fund, was a truly fiery personality, an old time preacher and a great activist. I was SCEF Field Organizer and knew him directly in that context. I hadn't seen him in many years — too many years — but he was not a person anyone would ever forget.

I asked him to speak in a North Carolina demonstration situation and, like all committed activists, he came and delivered a hell of a speech. Somewhere within it, he quoted the Bible thusly: "From he who hath more, more is expected." I've used that quote — a rough transposition of a Biblical line which isn't quite a blunt as Fred's version — many times in my own speeches. And I've always credited Fred with providing that nugget.

In another instance, again at my request, he came to a remote town in the Northeastern North Carolina Black Belt where we had underway our long, hard-fought county by county grassroots organizing project. The United Klans of America — headquartered in Alabama — was a powerful threat in our immediate region. I was to provide Fred's introduction and, as I began to do so, I made a short fiery speech of my own — and then, sans the expected introduction of the Speaker, I sat down. Everyone, including Fred, laughed cordially. I then introduced Fred — who, still grinning, allowed that he'd done that himself more than a time or two. (Actually, my little faux paux broke the ice in a situation which, given the dangers of the night, had been tense. Fred was intuitive and I think he knew that.)

Yes, he could get carried away. Carried away in a very good way. But his Fire, far from destroying, sowed seeds and built Life and grew many good things indeed.



As remembered by Mario Marcel Salas
October 5, 2011

I was with Fred in his last days having visited him in the nursing home he was in in August of this year. I was invited to see him by his wife Sephira Shuttlesworth and we were able to talk about some of his experiences and make a film. He could not talk but could respond to some of my comments and questions with the nod of a head and sometimes a wonderful smile. Luckily I was able to capture a few precious moments of a man who was absolutely fearless in the face of racist terror. I hope to share that film soon. He will never be forgotten and will remain an inspiration to all of us who have not given up. Once again we are asked to step it up a notch in our struggles to make this a better world. As veterans of the Civil Rights movement we have pledged to do so. The war against injustice wil not end but will be inspired to greater heights because of the unwavering spirit of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth-a true soldier in the war against injustice.

Mario Marcel Salas


As remembered by Heather Gray
October 6, 2011

Dear all — more on Reverend Shuttlesworh — 

I was fortunate to serve on the board of the Southern Organizing Committee for Racial and Economic Justice (SOC) that Anne Braden co-chaired along with Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth. The organization was one of the few that provided the opportunity for us to think and act regionally and to make the essential connections of the myriad of issues we faced. From the 1980's and on the meetings were always filled with a diversity of black, white and eventually Latino activists in the region.

We would sit for hours in New Orleans, Montgomery or Birmingham to strategize on various issues, activities and mistakes we9ve made then and in the past. We would also listen, learn and occasionally join in while the legendary leaders in our midst discussed and analyzed the dynamics of white supremacy, racial politics generally and labor challenges in the South. Anne was never without offering a lengthy epistle about anything until the wee hours of the night along with her ever-present cigarettes! These sessions were often both grueling and enlightening. They were not only a history lesson but also a socialization process into the tactics of southern civil rights activism. Fred and Anne would go on forever it seemed — I was quite fascinating really. The discussions also often included input from the former Pacifica Board Chair Jack O'Dell of course.

The work in the 1960's in the South was always challenged by divide and rule tactics by the ruling elite. Almost anyone who was doing anything to advance civil rights justice was labeled as a communist (and some were, of course, in the Communist Party as was often the case by black and white leaders in the South in the 30's, 40's and up). Anne's husband Carl Braden ended up for a while in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary when he answered "no" to the question in a grand jury "are you now or have you ever been a member of the communist party?" He was charged with sedition and given a 15 year sentence and served 8 months. The Braden's were targeted in Kentucky because they had purchased a house for a black couple in an all white neighborhood.

Fred Shuttlesworth talked about this a few years ago with some of us that he was challenged by some organizers in the south to distance himself from Anne Braden — he refused this and as he notes in the clip below, with comments from Anne as well, that he coupled "red-baiting" with "segregation". This you probably won't hear on the major media.

Peace, Heather Gray


As remembered by Charlie Cobb
October 6, 2011.

Originally published in The Root, October 6, 2011.

Fred Shuttlesworth: Civil Rights Lion

Dead at 89, the co-founder of SCLC leaves a legacy as a fearless leader.

The wells of courage from which the Southern freedom movement drew its strength are remarkably numerous and deep. Nonetheless, I would be hard-pressed to name anyone who was more courageous than the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, who died Wednesday at age 89. There was no one quite like him, and it is almost tragic that -- outside of Alabama or among those, like me, who had direct involvement with the freedom movement -- he is barely known. His life framed a struggle that changed the nation and teaches us the power of commitment.

"I excite things that they might become better," he often said. And that stance constantly put his life at risk. Inspired by the Montgomery Bus Boycott, in December 1956 Shuttlesworth formed the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and announced that he and members of this new organization would begin trying to "ride integrated" on Birmingham, Ala.'s city buses.

The Ku Klux Klan reacted, throwing six sticks of dynamite between his house and his church, which was next door. The bombing blew out the foundations and collapsed the roof. The stained-glass windows of the church were shattered, and a huge hole appeared in the basement wall.

The next day, however -- Christmas Day -- Shuttlesworth led black riders onto city buses and was arrested along with 20 others. Shuttlesworth said later that his "miraculous" survival of the Klan bombing convinced him that God had saved him to lead the fight against racism and segregation. As he put it to reporter Howell Raines: "If God could save me through this, then I'm gon' stay here and clear up this ... I wasn't saved to run."

In September 1957, Shuttlesworth and his wife, Ruby, brought their two daughters to Birmingham's all-white Phillips High School in an attempt to register them as students. A white mob beat him mercilessly, using brass knuckles, whips and chains. His wife was stabbed in the buttocks and later told her doctor that her only regret was that modesty prevented her from showing her wounds at the next civil rights mass meeting.

That same year, Shuttlesworth helped Martin Luther King Jr. organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Almost immediately, he began pressing King to launch protests in Birmingham. King, however, was cautious, unsure as to whether the city's professional class and civil rights old guard would support direct-action protests, especially with the blunt-spoken, militant Shuttlesworth in a leadership role. So King-led protests did not begin until 1963.

Shuttlesworth was not some smooth city guy. He had been raised in Alabama's backwoods and had been convicted of running his family's whiskey still in 1941. He'd been a truck driver and cement worker before becoming a Baptist preacher.

Although Shuttlesworth's bravery was already legendary, my generation of activists' first meaningful contact with him happened during the 1961 Freedom Rides. He tracked the Klan and informed CORE (the Congress of Racial Equality) of its violent plans. After Klansmen in Birmingham beat Freedom Rider Jim Peck into unconsciousness, Shuttlesworth boldly walked into the bus station and carried him to a hospital. Two days later in Montgomery, as hundreds of Klansmen surrounded the church of King colleague Ralph Abernathy, where Freedom Riders and local supporters were gathered, Shuttlesworth conducted CORE Director Jim Farmer through the mob into the church.

Nothing can be written that pays enough tribute to this unsung hero of the Southern freedom movement -- at least nothing that I am able to write. So let's conclude with words that are both preacherly and political, and so Shuttlesworth: "God made me dynamite-proof."

Charlie Cobb


As remembered by Michael Honey
October 6, 2011

We need to honor this man's life; Fred Shuttlesworth — Presente!

All the great comments about Rev. Fred Shuttesworth coming from many quarters are well deserved. When Martha Allen and I went to work as anti-repression coordinators for SCEF in 1970, Fred was the President of the board. He could always be counted on and he worked closely with Carl and Anne Braden. I am sure he remembered well how white supremacists had bombed the home the Bradens sold to a Black couple in 1954. Fred experienced and saw so many such acts in Bombingham. The state and local police and prosecutors in Kentucky hated the Bradens with a passion, such that anyone who worked with them became a target. That didn't bother Fred a bit. As he is quoted in one news story, he saw confrontation as a good thing, not a bad thing — good is supposed to confront evil, and not back down. We couldn't ask for a more stellar freedom movement leader! peace,

Mike Honey


As remembered by Dr. Gwendolyn M. Patton
October 7, 2011

A Freedom Fighter of the 1st order on the front line with his mind and heart stayed on freedom be assured your spirit of fighting for true freedom will dwell in us.

Gwen Patton

Copyright ©
(Labor donated)