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NAACP, civil rights leaders mourn loss of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth

Civil rights icon the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth has died, leaving few remaining living leaders of the U.S. civil rights movement. Shuttlesworth was co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He passed away on Oct. 5, at Princeton Baptist Medical Center, in Birmingham, Ala. He was 89.

“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,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.

A lifelong member of the NAACP, Chairman Rosalyn M. Brock reflected on Shuttlesworth’s “sustained belief in nonviolence.” She said in a statement that Shuttlesworth maintained those beliefs even after attempts on his life and physical attacks by white supremacists and police.

NAACP Chairman Emeritus Julian Bond recalled Shuttlesworth as a warrior. “He was among the most fearless of the nonviolent soldiers in the freedom army, a leader who never got his just due.”

“Today, we lost a true pillar of the civil rights community,” stated NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous.

In the 1950s, Shuttlesworth, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham and founder of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, challenged the practice of segregated busing in Birmingham. A year later, he, along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others, founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He served as that organization’s secretary from 1958-1970.

Shuttlesworth also participated in lunch-counter sit-ins and helped organize the Alabama Freedom Rides, where African-American activists rode buses into segregated states in order to challenge segregation laws.

In 2001, President Bill Clinton awarded Shuttlesworth a Presidential Citizens Medal for his leadership in the non-violent civil rights movement. He is honored in the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. Finally, the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport is named in his honor.

Shuttlesworth is survived by his wife, Sephira Shuttlesworth, and his four children.

— By Denise Rolark Barnes, special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

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