“They were trying to blow me into heaven, but God wanted me on Earth.” – Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth
Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth’s courage, tenacity, and epic struggle for racial equality in the city of Birmingham, Alabama, is legendary. Birmingham, not so affectionately nicknamed “Bombingham” in the 1950s and 1960s for its propensity for racial acts of terror, named its airport after the famed American Civil Rights leader in 2008.
This account, which speaks to the madness in Birmingham during his pastorate at Bethel Baptist Church, is from his New York Times obituary page:
In one instance, on Christmas night 1956, he survived an attack in which six sticks of dynamite were detonated outside his parsonage bedroom as he lay in bed. “The wall and the floor were blown out,” Ms. McWhorter wrote, “and the mattress heaved into the air, supporting Shuttlesworth like a magic carpet.”
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.”
I remember learning about Rev. Shuttlesworth during my studies of the American Civil Rights Movement at Ole Miss and you just had to deeply admire his stubborn, but principled courage.
One aspect of his life that may be overshadowed in the tributes paid to him in some forums is that Rev. Shuttlesworth was a conservative Baptist with a conservative theology. Christ was at the center of his preaching. He would want his death to be celebrated. Rev. Shuttlesworth lived a life with little fear because of the confidence he had in the power of Christ. He believed that he too would rise to be with his Savior.
Looking back on Birmingham and the famed movement for justice and equality there he simply said, “We knew that once the light shined into darkness that darkness couldn’t hold us back.” Below is a moving tribute to the former civil rights leader and pastor: