By Denise Rolark Barnes
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer
Civil rights icon, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth has died, leaving few remaining living leaders of the U.S. civil rights movement. Shuttlesworth was co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He passed away on Oct. 5, at Princeton Baptist Medical Center, in Birmingham. He was 89.
Condolences have been issued by leaders who admired the life-long commitment Shuttlesworth gave to civil and human rights.
“I will never forget having the opportunity several years ago to push Reverend Shuttlesworth in his wheelchair across the Edmund Pettus Bridge – a symbol of the sacrifices that he and so many others made in the name of equality,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.
“America owes Rev. Shuttlesworth a debt of gratitude, and our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Sephira, and their family, friends and loved ones.”
A lifelong member of the NAACP, Chairman Rosalyn M. Brock reflected on Shuttlesworth’s “sustained belief in nonviolence.” She said in a statement that Shuttlesworth maintained those beliefs even after attempts on his life and physical attacks by white supremacists and police.
“His legacy is reflected in the organizations he helped shape, and in the protests that continue to inspire generations of young civil rights leaders,” Brock said.
NAACP Chairman Emeritus Julian Bond recalled Shuttlesworth as a warrior. “He was among the most fearless of the nonviolent soldiers in the freedom army, a leader who never got his just due.”
“Today, we lost a true pillar of the civil rights community,” stated NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “During the civil rights era, Rev. Shuttlesworth fearlessly confronted all manners of segregation. His leadership during that time was critical in helping knock down the barriers to equality.”
In the 1950s, Shuttlesworth, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham and founder of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, challenged the practice of segregated busing in Birmingham. A year later, he, along with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others, founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
He served as that organization’s secretary from 1958- 1970.
Shuttlesworth also participated in lunch-counter sit-ins and helped organize the Alabama Freedom Rides, where African-American activists rode buses into segregated states in order to challenge segregation laws.
In 2001, President Bill Clinton awarded Shuttlesworth a Presidential Citizens Medal for his leadership in the “non-violent civil rights movement. He is honored in the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. Finally, the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport is named in his honor.
Shuttlesworth is survived by his wife, Sephira Shuttlesworth, and his four children.