We have lost another pioneer of the civil rights movement. Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, who led Birmingham’s fight against segregation, died today. He was 89.
For me, Rev. Shuttlesworth was much more than a name in my Alabama history textbooks. My grandmother Georgia Mae Price, the woman for whom this blog is named, was very involved in the the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (which Shuttlesworth founded) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (which Shuttlesworth helped create). My grandmother and Shuttlesworth were great friends. He was therefore practically a member of my family. He had moved to Cincinnati before I was born but would visit Birmingham and my family often. I remember being so confused the first time he was mentioned by a teacher at school. It was like finding out your uncle was famous but never told you.
One of my two most vivid memories of Shuttlesworth was the day he accidentally sat on and wrinkled a picture I’d been working on all day to give my mom. He didn’t even apologize and I was so mad (as you can tell since I still remember this at age 30). I can’t help but laugh when I think of this now. Here was this man whose sacrifices allowed me to go to school, eat, and play wherever I wanted and I was angry with him over a bad drawing.
The other memory is of one of the saddest days of my life — my grandmother’s funeral. Rev. Shuttlesworth gave her eulogy. In his sermon he talked about the hardships he and others faced during the civil rights movement but he also reminded people to appreciate the work of the unsung heroes, people like my grandmother who wasn’t on the front lines because she had to take care of her daughter (my mother) but was behind the scenes organizing meetings and offering home-cooked meals and a safe place to sleep to activists traveling to Birmingham during this tumultuous time. She even cooked dinner for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one evening.
So as we remember Rev. Shuttlesworth let’s remember that we too can make a difference, even if our names never make headlines or history books. We must simply be committed. During the civil rights movement Shuttlesworth was arrested repeatedly, beaten, and harassed. His home was bombed. But he never gave up.
Remember what he told demonstrators in the documentary Eyes on the Prize: “All we’ve got to do is to keep marching. Do tomorrow what we did today, and do it the next day, and then the next day we won’t have to do it at all.”
For more on Shuttlesworth visit NPR.