Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth passes away

Published: Oct. 5, 2011 at 4:02 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 5, 2011 at 10:05 PM EDT
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Shuttlesworth is in the center, Martin Luther King, Jr. on the left, Abernathy on the right....
Shuttlesworth is in the center, Martin Luther King, Jr. on the left, Abernathy on the right. They were at the AG Gaston Hotel announcing the Birmingham Truce. (Source: WBRC)
Shuttlesworth preaches in 2003 (Source: WBRC)
Shuttlesworth preaches in 2003 (Source: WBRC)

BIRMINGHAM, AL (FOX19) - The Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth, a leader of the civil rights movement, passed away Wednesday morning after a long illness. He was 89.

Princeton Baptist Medical Center spokeswoman Jennifer Dodd confirms he died at the Birmingham hospital Wednesday morning.

Shuttlesworth was born in Mount Meigs, AL in 1922, the son of a coal miner and a maid.

He was very active as a preacher of the gospel and civil rights in Birmingham during the 1950's, serving as pastor of Birmingham's Bethel Baptist Church.

He was beaten and arrested numerous times for his activism and was the target of several acts of violence, including the bombing of his house on Christmas Day in 1956.

"He suffered brutal beatings. His home was on several occasions bombed, his church bombed by the Ku Klux Klan. But Fred was relentless," said author L.D. Ervin.

[To see civil rights videos and exclusive interviews with Fred Shuttlesworth, visit the WBRC Civil Rights Vault:]

Shuttlesworth formed the Alabama Christian Rights Movement and helped create the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, along with Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy. He was secretary of the SCLC for many years.

Shuttlesworth left Alabama in 1961 and moved to Cincinnati to become pastor of Revelation Baptist Church and, later, Greater Light Baptist Church, where he continued to work against racism.

He was a voice for calm during the 1967 and 2001 racial unrest in Cincinnati. A street in Avondale bears his name.

He frequently returned to Alabama to continue efforts to end racism. Shuttlesworth organized numerous lunch counter sit-ins and bus boycotts during the 1960's.

In 2000, Shuttlesworth was awarded the President's Citizens Medal by President Clinton.

He retired in 2006 after having a benign brain tumor removed. He suffered a stroke in 2007 and spent several days at University Hospital, returning to Birmingham after recovering.

In October 2008, the Birmingham Airport Authority changed the name of the Birmingham International Airport to Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport.

"I have never sent people where I would not go. Reason I've suffered so much, is I've led the way," said Shuttlesworth during an interview with FOX19.

His widow, Mrs. Sephira Bailey Shuttleworth, expressed her appreciation and gratitude for the support and prayers that have poured in for Rev. Shuttlesworth and the family.

Rev. Shuttlesworth is also survived by four daughters: Patricia Massengill and Ruby (Harold) Bester of Cincinnati, OH; Carolyn Shuttlesworth of Rockville, MD and Maria Murdock of Birmingham, AL; a son, Fred Shuttlesworth, Jr. of Cincinnati, OH and a daughter-by-marriage, Audrey (Darnell) Wilson of Cincinnati, OH.

He is also survived by 14 grandchildren; 20 great-grandchildren, one great-great grandchild; and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.

Also surviving are five sisters: Betty Williams of Birmingham, AL; Truzella Brazil, Ernestine Grimes and Iwilder (Kenneth) Reed of Milwaukee, WI; also Eula Mitchell of Philadelphia, PA. One sister, Cleola Willis and two brothers, Eugene Shuttlesworth and Clifton Shuttlesworth preceded him in death.

Arrangements are incomplete and will be announced later.

Statement from President Obama on the passing of Civil Rights Leader Fred Shuttlesworth:

Michelle and I were saddened to hear about the passing of Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth today. As one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Reverend Shuttlesworth dedicated his life to advancing the cause of justice for all Americans. He was a testament to the strength of the human spirit. And today we stand on his shoulders, and the shoulders of all those who marched and sat and lifted their voices to help perfect our union.

I will never forget having the opportunity several years ago to push Reverend Shuttlesworth in his wheelchair across the Edmund Pettus Bridge – a symbol of the sacrifices that he and so many others made in the name of equality. America owes Reverend Shuttlesworth a debt of gratitude, and our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Sephira, and their family, friends and loved ones.

Mayor Mark Mallory issued the following statement of the passing of Civil Rights Icon Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth:

"Cincinnati and the world lost a great man today; Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth was a true example of one who was born to serve. He spent his entire life working to improve the lives of others. His strength and courage will be truly missed. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends."

Senator Eric H. Kearney issues the following statement on the passing of Civil Rights Icon Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth:

"I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Rev. Shuttlesworth. As a dedicated leader in the Civil Rights Movement, he was a shining example of a soldier for equal rights. The spirit and legacy of his work will live on forever in the hearts and souls of many."

U.S. Senator Rob Portman today issued the following statement on the passing of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth:

 "Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth was a civil rights pioneer who courageously fought for equality and opportunity. His fearlessness and tenacity helped close racial divides and bring much needed attention to the problems stemming from racism. Jane and I are proud to have known this great Cincinnatian and American, and our thoughts and prayers are with Rev. Shuttlesworth's friends and family on this sad day."

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