BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — 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 tenacity, has died. He was 89.
Relatives and hospital officials said the Rev. Shuttlesworth died Wednesday (Oct. 5, 2011) at Princeton Baptist Medical Center in Birmingham.
A former truck driver who studied religion at night, the Rev. Shuttlesworth became pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1953 and soon emerged as an outspoken leader in the struggle for racial equality.
"My church was a beehive," the Rev. 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 the Rev. Shuttlesworth "one of the nation's most courageous freedom fighters … a wiry, energetic and indomitable man."
Birmingham Mayor William Bell ordered city flags lowered to half-staff until after the Rev. Shuttleworth's funeral.
The Rev. 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," the Rev. Shuttlesworth told grade school students in 1997. "I went to jail for a good thing, trying to make a difference."
The Rev. Shuttlesworth 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 also stands outside the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
President Barack Obama released a statement lauding the Rev. Shuttlesworth as a "testament to the strength of the human spirit" and said America owes him a "debt of gratitude" for his fight for equality.