Farewell to Fred Shuttlesworth, Civil Rights Hero

By Duane Shank 10-06-2011

The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a pioneer and giant of the civil rights movement, died Wednesday at 89.

The Rev. Shuttlesworth helped organize and participate in most of the most significant events of the Civil Rights struggle. He was one of the founding members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957, participated in the first sit-ins in 1960 and the Freedom Rides in 1961.

In 1963, the Rev. Shuttlesworth was in Birmingham, Ala., to organize demonstrations where the police used dogs and firefighters used high-pressure water hoses to attack demonstrators -- including children. The pictures of those attacks helped make the broader American society aware of the Civil Rights movement.

Although then pastoring a church in Cincinnati, the Rev. Shuttlesworth frequently returned to Alabama and was one of the organizers of the historic Selma to Montgomery march that led to the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

The Rev. Shuttlesworth, along with the other men and women who led that movement for Civil Rights, were the pioneers of the struggle for justice in our time. Those of us who now work to continue their struggle travel in the path they blazed, and owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude.

Through beatings, arrests, imprisonment, and bomb attacks; they kept their eyes on the prize. And their courage continues to inspire us.

In 2008, the city where the Civil Rights Movement was met with such a brutal response, renamed its airport the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport .

I hope that the many thousands of travelers who pass through its gates remember who the Rev. Shuttlesworth was.

Duane Shank is senior policy advisor at Sojourners, and produces a daily news digest.

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