Through Angels Eyes
A survival story from the civil rights movement's most explosive time and place: Birmingham, 1963.

Who was Fred Shuttlesworth?


Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth was a leader of the civil rights movement in Alabama in the 1950’s and ’60’s. Revered for his strength of purpose and personal bravery, Shuttlesworth was instrumental in bringing the civil rights campaign to Birmingham. Alabama in the Spring of 1963.

Fred Shuttlesworth was born on March 18, 1922 under the name Freddie Lee Robinson in Mt Meigs, Alabama. He later took the last name of his stepfather, William N. Shuttlesworth. In 1953, he became the pastor of the Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham. He soon became chairman of the local chapter of the NAACP ( National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). When that organization was banned in Alabama three years later, Shuttlesworth cofounded the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights.

On December 25, 1956 Shuttlesworth’s house was destroyed by 16 sticks of dynamite. Fred emerged unhurt, vowing that he would not be swayed by such acts. A year later he joined together with Dr Martin Luther King, Jr and several other local ministers to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The organization was committed to non-violence and Shuttlesworth, despite his outspoken, no-nonsense attitude, fully endorsed and followed that philosophy. Fully aware of the dangers he was facing he once vowed to ‘kill segregation or be killed by it.’

Reverened Fred Shuttlesworth features in the Young Adult novel ‘Through Angel’s Eyes’, the first person account of a 13 year old Black girl as she experiences the pivotal events of the 1963 Birmingham civil rights campaign . . .

Before long, three men came from a door behind the crowd an' walked down the aisle towards the stage. Two of 'em sat in empty seats in the front row, an' the other one made his way onto the stage. He positioned himself on the podium, looked out over the different faces before him, an' smiled. He must've been up there, jus' standin' an' smilin', for a full minute 'fore he spoke. When he did it was in a slow an' powerful voice.

"My name's Fred Shuttlesworth," he began, "and, like you folks, I live here, in the most racist city in the whole world. We've been suffering under the heat of oppression for too long, and I've got the scars to prove it. The police in this city are armed thugs, and the judges are mostly Klan sympathizers. Now, a lot of you folks know that for seven years I've been operating the Alabama Christian Movement For Human Rights. In fact, many of you have worked along with me as part of that organization. Well, what have we achieved in seven years?"

He paused then, an' spread his eyes over the crowd again, sorta like he was searching out those that'd worked in the movement with him. Then he reached onto the platform a' the podium an' grabbed hold a' his Bible. Holding it up for all to see, he continued.

"What have we achieved? Well, when I open my Holy Bible to the gospel account of Saint Mark, and read from verse two of chapter one, 'bout John the Baptist, then I see clearly what we have achieved. For, it reads, 'Look, I am sending forth my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way.'"

Again, he stopped—like he was waitin' for those words to sink into our brains. My brain was gettin' nothin' but confused. I was hopin' it would all make sense when he continued. It did, even to me.

"We've been doing a preparatory work, loosening up the soil. Getting things ready, just like John the Baptizer got the people ready for the Lord Jesus. But, what have we been getting things ready for? What lies ahead?"

He paused again, takin' 'bout half a minute to look over the crowd. He'd fix his eyes on a person, jus' long enough for them to start feelin' uncomfortable, then switch his eyes across to the other side a' the room, an' fix on a person there. When he finally spoke again, his words was softer an' quieter.

"For the past several months, I have been working with representatives of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference on the best ways to deal with the race problem in Birmingham. After much
deliberation, we have decided that a total, concerted, all-out campaign of direct action is the only answer."

Those words didn't mean much to me, but they sure got the rest a' the folks excited. From all 'round me, people was yellin' out, "Amen!" Others was clappin' their hands, an' still others was sayin' things like "'bout time," an' "sho 'nough."
After a while, the guy on the stage—Fred—put both his hands in the air, as if to tell everybody to quiet down. Then he went on to explain 'bout how the whole world was gonna see somethin' happenin' in our town over the next few weeks that was gonna make us all very proud—somethin' like Birmin'ham had never seen before. An' what we was gonna do was to break down the walls a' segregation, not jus' here in Birmin'ham, but all over the South. Now, those was words I could understan'. Excitin' words. Words that made me wanna be there—right in the middle a' what was gonna be.

Search result for 'Fred Shuttlesworth' in Through Angels Eyes

"..."My name's Fred Shuttlesworth," he began, "and, like you folks, I live here, in the most racist city in the whole world. We've been suffering under the heat of oppression for too long, and I've got the scars to prove it. The police in this city are armed thugs, and the judges are ..."

"...10:25 am, a group of approximately 25 Negroes, led by local Negro activist Fred Shuttlesworth, began marching from the Baptist Church on Sixteenth Street towards the central business district. At approximately 11:15, they arrived outside the F.W. Woolworth's Department Store and began amassing in an illegal manner. The police moved in at around 11:30 to restore order and several arrests were made. We will ..."

"...Suddenly, the doors a' the church flung open an' the demonstrators poured out—first Fred Shuttlesworth an' Mister Ab’nathy. Everyone 'round me began yellin' an' clappin' then. But not me. I jus' looked up at that big policeman to see what he was doin'. I noticed his eyes was kind a' dancin' from the protestors to the crowd an' back again. His hand was clenched ..."
"... looked like he'd be better off behind a desk at a newspaper office than here. "As Commissioner of Public Safety of this city, I am orderin' you to disperse," he bellowed, lookin' directly at Fred Shuttlesworth. Fred stopped marchin' then. This caused those alongside him to stop too, an' ..."

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Who was Fred Shuttlesworth?

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