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Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth, 1922–2011

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“Doctor, the Lord knew I lived in a hard town, so he gave me a hard head."

Those words were spoken by the Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth in 1957 after members of the Ku Klux Klan brutally attacked him for enrolling his children in an all-white school. It was one of many violent attempts to silence the voice of this legendary civil rights leader; none were successful.On Wednesday, October 5, 2011, Rev. Shuttlesworth passed away at the age of 89 in Birmingham, Alabama.

With physical courage surpassed only by his commitment to justice, Shuttlesworth served as the leader of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, helped organize the Freedom Rides, and was one of the four founding ministers of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He was the leading advocate for equality in Birmingham and organized his city’s historic two weeks of protest in 1963. Standing up to Bull Connor’s fire hoses and attack dogs, Shuttlesworth led thousands of men, women, and children in nonviolent demonstrations against racial oppression. After television cameras captured days of constant violence against the protesters, Americans across the country witnessed the injustice of segregation directly.

Following Birmingham, Shuttlesworth was a major organizer of the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. His leadership on the ground in the South directly contributed to passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

Born into poverty in Mount Meigs, Alabama, Shuttlesworth made his living as a truck driver before answering his spiritual vocation and taking up the causes of social justice and racial equality. He first became pastor of Birmingham’s Bethel Baptist Church in 1953 and continued to preach in Cincinnati, Ohio, until moving back to Alabama in 2008.

Throughout his life, Shuttlesworth pursued justice with an unparalleled fire, raising up his congregations and his country with a righteous voice and a soul willing to sacrifice it all. Today, the Democratic National Committee honors Rev. Shuttlesworth and remembers the life of a great American.