- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 5, 2011

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — The Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth, who was bombed, beaten and repeatedly arrested in the fight for civil rights and hailed by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for his courage and energy, has died. He was 89.

Jennifer Dodd, a spokeswoman for the Princeton Baptist Medical Center, confirmed that Mr. Shuttlesworth died at the Birmingham hospital Wednesday morning..

Mr. Shuttlesworth, a former truck driver who studied religion at night, became pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1953 and soon was an outspoken leader in the fight for racial equality.

“My church was a beehive,” Mr. Shuttlesworth once said. “I made the movement. I made the challenge. Birmingham was the citadel of segregation, and the people wanted to march.”

In his 1963 book “Why We Can’t Wait,” King called Mr. Shuttlesworth “one of the nation’s the most courageous freedom fighters … a wiry, energetic and indomitable man.”

** FILE ** The Rev. Ralph Abernathy (left) of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta and the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth of the Revelation Baptist Church in Cincinnati talk to reporters at the White House in Washington after a conference with President Kennedy in 1963. (AP Photo/Bill Allen, File)
** FILE ** The Rev. Ralph Abernathy (left) of the Southern Christian ... more >

Mr. Shuttlesworth survived a 1956 bombing, an assault during a 1957 demonstration, chest injuries when Birmingham authorities turned fire hoses on demonstrators in 1963, and countless arrests.

“I went to jail 30 or 40 times, not for fighting or stealing or drugs,” Mr. Shuttlesworth told grade-school students in 1997. “I went to jail for a good thing — trying to make a difference.”

He visited frequently and remained active in the movement in Alabama even after moving in 1961 to Cincinnati, where he was a pastor for most of the next 47 years. He moved back to Birmingham in February 2008 for rehabilitation after a mild stroke. That summer, the once-segregated city honored him with a four-day tribute and named its airport after him; his statue stands outside the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

And in November 2008, Mr. Shuttlesworth watched from a hospital bed as Sen. Barack Obama was elected the nation’s first black president. The year before, Mr. Obama had pushed Mr. Shuttlesworth‘s wheelchair across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma during a commemoration of the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march.

In the early 1960s, Mr. Shuttlesworth invited King back to Birmingham. Televised scenes of police dogs and fire hoses being turned on black marchers, including children, in the spring of 1963 helped the rest of the nation grasp the depth of racial animosity in the Deep South.

Referring to the city’s notoriously racist safety commissioner, Mr. Shuttlesworth would tell followers, “We’re telling ol’ ‘Bull’ Connor right here tonight that we’re on the march and we’re not going to stop marching until we get our rights.”

According to a May 1963 New York Times profile of Mr. Shuttlesworth, Connor responded to word that Mr. Shuttlesworth had been injured by the spray of fire hoses by saying: “I’m sorry I missed it. … I wish they’d carried him away in a hearse.”

While King went on to international fame, Mr. Shuttlesworth was relatively little known outside Alabama. But he was a key figure in Spike Lee’s 1997 documentary, “4 Little Girls,” about the September 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four black children.

He also gained attention in Diane McWhorter’s book “Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution,” which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2002.

Mr. Shuttlesworth was born March 18, 1922, near Montgomery and grew up in Birmingham.

Story Continues →