Sunday, March 17, 2002

Shuttlesworth honored for life's march

Justice is still his mission

By Howard Wilkinson,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In a time of racial strife in Cincinnati, hundreds of Cincinnatians — black and white — stopped Saturday night to honor a civil rights pioneer, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, at a banquet celebrating his 80th birthday.

        So, too, did some of Rev. Shuttlesworth's nationally known allies in the civil rights movement — the Rev. Al Sharpton, the Rev. Otis Moss, a leader of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, and Martin Luther King III, son of the man Rev. Shuttlesworth marched with in Alabama nearly 50 years ago.

[photo] Martin Luther King III (center) makes a joke about the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth (right) and gets a laugh out of the Rev. Otis Moss at a press conference before an 80th birthday dinner for Rev. Shuttlesworth.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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        “I am blessed to have lived this long and seen this much,” the 80-year-old Baptist minister said at a reception before Saturday's dinner.

        “I have seen us come so far, but we have so much farther to go,” he said,” surrounded by his three daughters and his son, who organized the event.

        The pastor's friends gathered at the Millennium Hotel downtown — two days before his 80th birthday — to honor the man who marched side-by-side with Martin Luther King in Alabama 40 years ago.

        Rev. Shuttlesworth was joined by another old friend from the civil rights movement in Alabama — Rev. Moss, a Cleveland Baptist who was once pastor at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Woodlawn.

        Saturday night, Rev. Moss delivered the keynote address at the banquet honoring Rev. Shuttlesworth. The two worked closely with the Rev. Dr. King in the 1950s and '60s.

        “This man and I have marched together, gone to jail together, shared good times and bad,” Rev. Moss said. “I am honored to call him friend.”

        Throughout the evening, the violence that rocked Cincinnati last April and the boycott called in May by some black leaders in a push for racial justice came up again and again.

        At a press conference before the dinner, the Rev. Shuttlesworth did not support the boycott, but made it clear he sympathizes with its aims.

        “I don't know all the details,” Rev. Shuttlesworth said. “I've been in and out of town a lot lately.

        “But I do know we are committed as the family of God to fighting evil and bringing justice. That is the mission of the family of God on earth.”

        The Rev. Sharpton — who was in town for a celebration of the Rev. H.L. Harvey's 25 years at New Friendship Baptist church in Avondale — stopped at the Shuttlesworth celebration and recalled being invited to Cincinnati several years ago by the Rev. Shuttlesworth for a rally protesting “police brutality.”

        “If they had listened to him then in this city, we wouldn't be at this point in Cincinnati,” the Rev. Sharpton said.

        Rev. King, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said he will “join with the leadership in this city that says we are not going to let anyone turn us around.”

        Rev. King said that Rev. Shuttlesworth is a “truly historic” figure in the civil rights movement.

        “These days, everybody says they stood with my father back in the days of the marches in Alabama,” Rev. King said.

        “Everybody says it; very few did. Fred Shuttlesworth really did.”

        It was a long and sometimes dangerous road that brought Rev. Shuttlesworth to the place he holds today in the history of civil rights in America.

        By the time the Rev. Shuttlesworth moved his family from his native Alabama to Cincinnati in 1961 to become pastor of Revelation Baptist Church in the West End, he had passed through the crucible of violence and struggle that marked the civil rights movement of the 1950s.

        In 1956, he was already a veteran of the movement — and a target for the hatred and violence of the many white Southerners who resisted change.

        That year, on Christmas Day, a firebomb ripped through his Birmingham home, but he, his wife, Ruby, and their children survived.

        Although he left the South to take a pastor's position in Cincinnati, his passion for ending the Jim Crow era in his native South and bringing full rights of citizenship to blacks never left.

        He returned to Alabama repeatedly in the early 1960s to join the Rev. Dr. King and other civil rights leaders in the struggle. Thirty-seven years ago this month, he walked arm-in-arm with the Rev. Dr. King, followed by hundreds of others, in the historic “Bloody Sunday” march from Birmingham to Selma, Ala.

        Two weeks ago, the Rev. Shuttlesworth returned to Alabama with hundreds of other veterans of the civil rights movement to march from Birmingham to Selma again.

        Since 1966, he has been pastor at Greater New Light Baptist church in Avondale, a church he founded.

        Two years ago, the Greater Cincinnati Area Chamber of Commerce named him a Great Living Cincinnatian. In January 2001, just days before he left office, President Clinton presented him with a Presidential Citizens Medal.

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