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Hundreds mourn civil rights pioneer
Preacher fought relentless battles against racial bias
Question of the Day
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — As he fought discrimination in his native Alabama, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth endured bombs, beatings and the constant threat of death - the price of seeking change in one of the most violent cities of the segregated South.
On Monday, Birmingham said farewell to the fiery Baptist preacher, honoring him at his funeral as a liberator who helped free the community and the country.
Mr. Shuttlesworth was “one of the founding fathers of the new America,” who put his life on the line in the 1950s and 1960s to end segregation and racial discrimination, said Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.
“Fear, real fear, smothered the air, not just throughout Birmingham, but throughout the American South,” Mr. Lewis said from podium just a few feet above Mr. Shuttlesworth’s open casket. The two met in 1961 during the Freedom Rides.
“Birmingham is different today. Alabama is different today. America is different today, because this man passed our way.”
Mr. Lewis was joined by pastors and other foot soldiers from the civil rights era who remembered Mr. Shuttlesworth as an architect of the movement, a man whose courage and persistence persuaded the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to come to Birmingham in 1963 to take part in historic protests that drew the eyes of the nation.
That visit helped paved the way for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and for King to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
In their tributes, speakers described a state long synonymous with discrimination that was forever changed by Mr. Shuttlesworth and his fellow clergymen.
Mr. Shuttlesworth brought international attention to the brutality of discrimination in the South. And for decades after the 1963 campaign, he continued to fight racial injustice in Birmingham, even after moving to Cincinnati.
Former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young said Mr. Shuttlesworth “raised the cloud of hell off the city.”
Joining the crowd of mourners at Faith Chapel Christian Center were members of King’s family, along with the Revs. Joseph Lowery and Jesse Jackson, and the widow of the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy. Mr. Shuttlesworth died Oct. 5 at age 89.
His wife was able to attend the service, even after falling the night before and staying overnight in a hospital. The crowd at the funeral stood and applauded as Sephira Shuttlesworth was wheeled to her husband’s casket, where she stood to view his body before leaning down to kiss him.
Her spokeswoman, Malena Cunningham, said she was sore after falling at a panel discussion Sunday night, but she wasn’t going to let it “stop her from giving a proper farewell to her husband.”
Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, spoke frankly to the mostly black mourners about his own experiences with segregation. He grew up on the other side of Jim Crow as a young white man in Shelby County and later as a student at the University of Alabama.
Before men like Mr. Shuttlesworth agitated for an end to segregation, the governor said, he never gave much thought to the culture of discrimination that hung over the state.
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