The Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth, one of the most important figures of the civil rights movement, has died at a hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. He was 89 years old.
Shuttlesworth led the Birmingham civil rights protests in the early 1960s and convinced Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy that Birmingham was the place where Jim Crow should be confronted head-on. In Diane McWhorter’s superb account of the Birmingham crisis, Carry Me Home, she writes that Martin Luther King was unfocused and a plodder and that it was Fred Shuttlesworth who pushed him to greatness.
Fred Shuttlesworth had ties to higher education. In 1956 he accompanied his friend and former classmate Autherine Lucy to Tuscaloosa where she attempted to integrate the University of Alabama. “It was a tremendously tense affair,” Shuttlesworth told JBHE several years ago. “All eyes of the students were upon us and we were helpless. There were several marshals, but I felt that if things had broken loose, we would have been defenseless. She was one of the bravest young women I ever met.”