The genius of the non-violent movement was that it magnified the hidden evil of racism and segregation.
Televised images of peaceful, well-dressed, marchers—including women and children—as they were arrested, attacked with water hoses, and razor-tooth police dogs, left an indelible black eye on that chapter of American race relations.
Truth be told, had the protesters fought their attackers, many more of them would have been casualties of “justifiable homicides,” as violence begets violence, and when it came to weaponry, the fight was decidedly one-sided.
The non-violent nature of many of the civil rights protests may have left an indelible mark on future generations as well. Today, some misinformed members of the new school view civil rights activists as a collective of determined older people who sang songs of peace and overcoming in the shadow of beatings and bombings.
Seldom do the stories of civil rights warriors surface.
These warriors were the protectors of the vision, they were on the frontlines throwing their bodies into danger whenever the Civil Rights Movement called; Rev. Fred. L. Shuttlesworth was often at the forefront.
As some civil rights protestors were trained to speak softly, it was Rev. Shuttlesworth who carried the big stick.
To be clear, Shuttlesworth was beaten, bombed, and jailed dozens of times, all in the name of fighting the good fight. He was known as the brave, in-your-face, go-to guy, and ironically, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., feared for Shuttlesworth’s safety, and once dubbed the passionate Shuttlesworth the Civil Rights Movement “first martyr.”
Perhaps Shuttlesworth feared nothing but God because a higher power had his back.
Take, for example, the numerous failed attempts on his life. On Christmas day, 1956, Shuttlesworth’s church property was bombed and he was not harmed. Months later, Shuttlesworth tried to enroll his daughters at Philips High School, and was met with a white mob.
Armed with baseball bats and bicycle chains, the mob beat Shuttlesworth savagely, crushed his daughter Ruby’s ankle with the family’s car door, and stabbed his wife.
Everyone survived, and doctors were amazed that despite the savage nature of the beating, not one bone was broken in Shuttleworth’s body, and he did not suffer a concussion. “The Lord knew I live in a hard town,” he said at the time, “so he gave me a hard head.”
Rev. Shuttlesworth was born Freddie Lee Robinson in Mugler, Ala., on March 18, 1922.
Shuttlesworth’s first wife, Ruby, died in 1971.
In 2006, Shuttlesworth, 84, remarried Sephira Bailey, 49, his longtime friend.
Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth died of complications from a lengthy illness; he was 89. For more information, visit www.FredShuttlesworthfoundation.org.