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Courageous civil rights activist, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, dead at 89

HERB BOYD Special to the AmNews | 10/13/2011, 11:42 a.m.
Tribute to Rev. Shuttlesworth

Shuttlesworth was born Freddie Lee Robinson on March 18, 1922, in rural Mount Meigs, Ala. He took the surname Shuttlesworth from his mother's second husband. He had eight sisters and brothers, and the family supplemented its income by sharecropping and making moonshine liquor, an activity for which Shuttlesworth was sentenced to two years probation in 1940.

The earlier quote from Branch fills in his life until the mid-'50s, when he was totally involved in the Civil Rights Movement, working in concert with King.

One incident that occurred on Christmas Day in 1956 is indicative of Shuttlesworth's resolve and unflinching stance against danger. After surviving the bombing of his home, Shuttlesworth was approached by a police officer who told him that if he were in his place, "I'd get out of town as quick as I can."

"But officer, you are not me," Shuttlesworth replied. "And you can go back and tell your Klan brethren that if God could deliver me through all of this, I'm here for the duration, and the war is just beginning."

And that would be his promise and his position, though he did move temporarily to Cincinnati only to return to Birmingham later.

Besides his wife, Shuttlesworth is survived by four daughters, Patricia Massengill, Ruby "Ricky" Bester, Carolyn Shuttlesworth and Maria Murdock; a son, Fred Jr.; a stepdaughter, Audrey Wilson; five sisters, Betty Williams, Truzella Brazil, Ernestine Grimes, Iwilder Reid and Eula Mitchell; 14 grandchildren; 20 great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild.

In 2008, the city renamed its main airport Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport.

Among the lasting memories for a man of great memory was being pushed across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma by President Barack Obama in 2009 during a memorial celebration of the infamous "Bloody Sunday" in 1965.