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Fred L. Shuttlesworth, Iconic Civil Rights Leader from Birmingham, died Wednesday

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Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth with Dr. Clayborne Carson and King Institute staff during a visit to Stanford University.

Andrew Manis, author of the Shuttlesworth biography, A Fire You Can’t Put Out, has stated, “That Fred Shuttlesworth did not become a martyr was not for lack of trying. There was not a person in the civil rights movement who put himself in the position of being killed more often than Fred Shuttlesworth."

Widely known for his confrontational and fiery style, Shuttlesworth was often a controversial figure to both his opponents and allies.  Due to his daring fortitude, he suffered multiple physical attacks, and both his church and home were bombed on multiple occasions.  He was arrested and jailed over 30 times in various cities throughout the South as he led civil rights protests.  In 1957 he was beaten with chains and brass knuckles by Klansmen as he tried to enroll his children in an all-white school in Birmingham.  As he was being treated for his injures, he famously said, “The Lord knew I lived in a hard town, so he gave me a hard head.”  

Born Freddie Lee Robinson on March 18, 1922 in Mount Meigs, Alabama. He was licensed and ordained as a preacher in 1948, earned an A.B. (1951) from Selma University and a B.S. (1953) from Alabama State College. In 1952 he accepted his first pastorate at the First Baptist Church in Selma and the following year he was called to Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham.  He remained at Bethel Baptist until 1961 whereupon he accepted the pastorate of Revelation Baptist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Shuttlesworth frequently traveled back to the South in order to remain on the front lines of the battle against segregation. After pastoring Greater New Light Baptist Church for 39 years he retired from full time ministry in 2005. 

One of the founding members of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Fred Shuttlesworth brought a militant voice to the struggle for black equality. He drew Martin Luther King, Jr. and the SCLC to Birmingham in 1963 for a historic confrontation against one of the strongest bastions of segregation, enforced by Eugene "Bull" Connor. 

The Rev. Shuttlesworth is survived by his wife, Sephira Shuttlesworth, and his children, Patricia Shuttlesworth Massengill, Ruby Shuttlesworth Bester, Fred L. Shuttlesworth Jr., and Carolyn Shuttlesworth.