Fred Shuttlesworth: A Fire You Can't Put out

Paul Harvey

Rest in peace, Fred Shuttlesworth, who led an amazing career as an Alabamian, a Baptist minister, a civil rights activist in Birmingham long before the the Southern Christian Leadership Conference arrived there in 1963. His career is given a brief and appreciative overview here, and here. But this would be a good time to remind everyone of one of the classics of civil rights history, one that in my opinion remains underappreciated: Andrew Manis, A Fire You Can't Put Out: The Civil Rights Life of Birmingham's Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth (University of Alabama Press, 2001). There's a lot that could be said of Andy's work, which I continue to consult frequently, but one of the most striking things in the volume is the heavy personal price Shuttlesworth paid -- not just in the beatings and bombings he endured, but in family turmoil and personal conflicts. It's a reminder of what it meant for him to count the cost.

When he tried to enroll his children in an all-white school in 1957, Klansmen attacked him with bicycle chains and brass knuckles. When a doctor treating his head wounds marveled that he had not suffered a concussion, Mr. Shuttlesworth famously replied, “Doctor, the Lord knew I lived in a hard town, so he gave me a hard head.”


Edward J. Blum said…
rest in peace, warrior for justice