News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Stuttlesworth continues as civil rights symbol

The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth retired from being pastor of his Cincinnati church Sunday. At age 84, the old civil rights war-horse thinks it's time to turn over leadership of the Greater New Light Baptist church to a younger leader.

That he stayed so long — 40 years — reflects on the character of one of the most fearless leaders of the movement that changed the South and Birmingham, specifically.

The Birmingham white power structure referred to the young black minister who had come up from Selma to lead the flock at Bethel Baptist Church as a troublemaker.

His defiance of the Ku Klux Klan and Birmingham police Commissioner Eugene "Bull" Connor made headlines around the world.

Thugs set off dynamite outside his parsonage bedroom window some 50 years ago, but he walked away unharmed. He was among what were then called demonstrators who Mr. Connor tried to break up with police dogs and fire hoses.

Thugs beat him with bicycle chains, brass knuckles and baseball bats in 1957 when he and his wife attempted to enroll two of their children in an all-white school.

The late Mrs. Shuttlesworth suffered a stab in her hip.

When he left Birmingham for Cincinnati in the early 1960s, the bigots prided themselves on running out a troublemaker. But he did not scare easily. He simply enlarged his base in Cincinnati.

His final sermon as pastor reflected his life. "It does good to stand up and serve others," he said.

Face to face, Mr. Shuttlesworth continues to breathe life into the civil rights movement that he helped start. Hopefully, he will have time and his health will permit him to tell his story in person to generations who think of the movement as something to study in school history books.

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