Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth, one of the Civil Rights Movement’s celebrated leaders, has died. He was 89.
In his lifelong crusade for racial justice, Shuttlesworth was determined to end segregation and violence. He came to the church early on, studying to be a minister at night while working as a truck driver by day. He was ordained in his mid-20s, and in 1953 became the pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham. From the beginning, he was a strong leader in the movement, once saying, “My church was a beehive. I made the movement. I made the challenge. Birmingham was the citadel of segregation, and the people wanted to march.”
In the early 1960s, Shuttlesworth invited Martin Luther King, Jr. to Birmingham, and is thus credited with bringing the national fight for equality to his hometown. King called him one of the nation’s most courageous freedom fighters, surviving numerous attacks over the years at the hands of police and white supremacists. “I went to jail 30 or 40 times, not for fighting or stealing or drugs,” Shuttlesworth told grade school students in 1997, as reported by the Associated Press. “I went to jail for a good thing, trying to make a difference.”
Even after moving to Cincinnati in 1961, Shuttlesworth made frequent visits to Alabama and remained active in the fight for justice in that city. While in Cincinnati he served as pastor at Revelation Baptist Church and Greater New Light Baptist Church, and also started a foundation to help low-income people make down payments on homes.
In 2008 he returned to Birmingham for health reasons. The city honored him with a four-day tribute and named its airport after him.
He passed away Wednesday morning at Princeton Baptist Medical Center. A fixture in the Civil Rights Movement, his legacy is one of fearlessness, conviction, and love for justice.
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