Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, who passed on in October, was a fearless, determined, courageous leader for civil rights and social justice. When others did not have the courage to speak out, Shuttlesworth put all he had on the line to end segregation. He was beaten with chains, his church was bombed, and he lived under constant threat of violence and murder. It was Shuttlesworth who stood with Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy at the First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, on the night of May 21, 1961, to rally the audience in support of the Freedom Rides—and who stayed with us all night while an angry mob surrounded the church and threatened to burn it down. Bombs were set off so frequently in Birmingham during the 1950s and ’60s that people called the city “Bombingham.” It did not matter. Where others shook in fear, Fred Shuttlesworth took action.
All of us—every American, as well as all those around the world who have used the civil rights movement as a template for their own struggles for change—owe Shuttlesworth a heavy debt of gratitude for his willingness to give all he had to help build a more just society.
Rep. John Lewis, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, was chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and a leader in the civil rights movement.