Oct 5, 2011


(NPR) The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a pioneer of the civil rights movement, died Wednesday in Birmingham, Ala. Shuttlesworth led Birmingham's battle against segregation — a battle that focused the national spotlight on the violent resistance to equal rights in the South and forced change. He was 89.

As Birmingham goes, so goes the nation. That belief was the driving force behind Shuttlesworth's crusade for equality.

"He was the soul and heart of the Birmingham movement," Georgia Rep. John Lewis said. It was Birmingham, he said, that brought the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

"Fred Shuttlesworth had the vision, the determination never to give up, never to give in," Lewis said. "He led an unbelievable children's crusade. It was the children who faced dogs, fire hoses, police billy clubs that moved and shook the nation."

A decade before that infamous standoff between authorities and young protesters in Kelly Ingram Park, Shuttlesworth was already pushing for change in what had come to be called "Bombingham." Dozens of black homes and churches were bombed, the cases rarely investigated by the city's all-white police force. In 1955, the charismatic young pastor of Bethel Baptist Church led a delegation of ministers who petitioned for black police officers.

Historian Horace Huntley of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute said Shuttlesworth personally challenged just about every segregated institution in the city — from schools and parks to buses, even the waiting room at the train station.

"They had a white section and a colored section. Fred and his wife bought tickets and they sat in the white section," Huntley said. "That was revolutionary for Birmingham in the 1950s."





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