As a pastor in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1950’s and ’60’s, Fred Shuttlesworth challenged every segregated institution in the city.
In 1963, he invited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to make Birmingham the target King was seeking to challenge legal segregation in the south. Shuttlesworth was one of only two black pastors in Birmingham (the other being Dr. King’s brother) who welcomed King’s arrival and saw it as an opportunity to finally to end the standoff with the KKK – both those in sheets and those in suits.
Shuttlesworth supported the mobilization of the children and youth of Birmingham in the fight against segregation and was instrumental in convincing Dr. King to back the Children’s Crusade, which finally broke the back of segregation in the American South.
Reverend Shuttlesworth loved the movement. He declared repeatedly, “A movement means MOVE! If you’re not marching, not moving, it’s not a movement.” That spirit lived within him and his motto became BAMN’s.
Reverend Shuttlesworth first came to embrace BAMN during our fight to defend affirmative action at the University of Michigan through youth-led, militant, mass action. When BAMN was criticized for organizing black youth from Detroit’s junior high and high schools, picketing the court house during the trial of Grutter v. Bollinger, or for our political intransigence, he always had our back.
Reverend Shuttlesworth spoke at BAMN events at UM, invited us to address his Cincinnati congregation and housed our organizers in the months leading up to the mass march and rally in defense of affirmative action at the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals on December 6, 2001. At the age of 79, in the driving rain, he marched hand-in-hand with students from all over the nation who had come to continue the fight for the desegregation of higher education.
Reverend Shuttlesworth never tired of fighting racism and never accepted the false view that America had become a “post-racial” society or that “race blind” policies could address the great inequalities that still exist. He would relate with great anger racist incidents he still encountered despite his status as a prominent, senior civil rights leader, as well as the glee he felt in continuing to fight back.
He will be greatly missed, and always remembered for his fearlessness in the face of danger, political intransigence, militancy and his indefatigable faith in the power and righteousness of youth struggle.
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