|Rev. Shuttlesworth was one of the founding members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Photo provided|
“Rev. Shuttlesworth would say that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the voice of the Civil Rights Movement, and he was the soldier in the trenches,” said Palm Beach Atlantic University Professor Terriel Byrd.
Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth, the strong-willed civil rights leader of the 1950s and early 1960s in his native Birmingham, Ala. died Oct. 5 at the age of 89, leaving a legacy of freedom fighting and spreading the gospel, which included visits to Palm Beach Atlantic University through his connection with Byrd.
The special mentorship and friendship between Byrd, a professor of Urban Christian Ministry at PBA, and resident expert on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, and Shuttlesworth began in Ohio. Byrd served as campus minister at Miami University in the 1980s, and was introduced to Shuttlesworth, then pastor of Greater New Light Baptist Church in Cincinnati.
According to Byrd, it was the continued threats on his life, which led Shuttlesworth to Ohio in the mid-1960s. The threats weren’t to be taken lightly. His church, Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham was bombed Christmas day in 1956. Miraculously no one was killed, but it was the first of several such attacks in a city that came to be known as “Bombingham.” And the violence didn’t stop there. Shuttlesworth was brutally beaten with chains and brass knuckles, and his wife stabbed, when trying to enroll his children in an all-white school in Birmingham in 1957.
|Dr. Terriel Byrd during a visit to Rev. Shuttlesworth's church in Cincinnati in 2005.|
“When Dr. King linked up with Rev. Shuttlesworth the infrastructure of the Civil Rights Movement was already in place,” said Byrd. “Birmingham was the most racist city in the South as Eugene “Bull” Connor was such a brutal and vicious police commissioner. He (Shuttlesworth) knew if he invited Dr. King to bring the protest to Birmingham, Connor would respond in a way that would expose the hate and brutality that existed.”
Shuttlesworth’s logic proved to be correct as response by the authorities to the protests in Birmingham in 1963, known as the Birmingham Campaign, was so drastic, it drew the attention of the media allowing Americans and the world to watch what was happening on their TV sets.
“Even President Kennedy couldn’t believe this was happening in a city in our nation,” Byrd said. “It shamed America.”
For this reason, and the many behind the scenes efforts of Shuttlesworth Byrd believes him to be the “unsung hero of the Civil Rights Movement.”
In 2001, when Shuttlesworth visited Palm Beach Atlantic University at the invitation of Dr. Ken Mahanes and Byrd, he spoke to students in chapel, and afterwards they watched “Who Speaks for Birmingham?” The documentary produced by CBS News shows the racial climate of Birmingham in the late 1950s and early 1960s leading up to the protests there – the protests that opened the eyes of the nation.
“He (Shuttlesworth) was committed to fighting on the grounds of biblical mandate,” said Byrd. “He was a preacher first.”
As American mourns a civil rights leader, Byrd also mourns a friend who he said he misses. The final chapter of his upcoming book, “By This Shall We Be Known: Interpreting the Voice, Vision and Message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” is all about Shuttlesworth's influence on his life.
“Often he was a prophet without honor,” said Byrd. “(But) I call him civil rights royalty.”