Final Birmingham tribute for Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth Monday

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth will be honored a final time Monday during Homegoing Service at the Faith Center Christian Center in Birmingham, Ala.

It's the last of three days of celebrations of the life and legacy for the civil rights icon before he's laid to rest at Oak Hill Cemetery. He died Oct. 5th at the age of 89.

On Sunday night, Rev. Shuttlesworth was remembered as a national treasure for his decades of work in trying to stop segregation in the United States in non-violent ways.

The comment came from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder during a Pastoral Memorial for the civil rights icon at the historic 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. It's the same church that was bombed during demonstrations in 1963, killing four young girls.

Thousands of people paid tribute to the often fiery, sometimes blunt, but always courageous leader who sought justice for every citizen and opened the door of opportunity for many.

"Rev. Shuttlesworth was both a warrior for justice and an advocate for peace -- a trailblazer who really never sought the spotlight and never stopped reaching back to help those who struggled to follow in his steps," Holder said. "Let me be very clear. Without him there would be no me."

The Attorney General called for every American to recommit themselves to the struggle that defined Rev. Shuttlesworth's life.

"Despite the fact that an African American sits in the White House and another addresses you tonight as Attorney General for the United States of America, work remains to be done," said Holder. "In far too many places discrimination remains as a real and active threat."

Dozens of Cincinnatians traveled to Birmingham for the weekend events because Rev. Shuttlesworth founded and preached at the Greater New Light Baptist Church in North Avondale for 40 years.

Many of them were invited to a Sunday luncheon with his family at Birmingham City Hall.

"The outpouring of affection is overwhelming. It is just huge," said his wife, Sephira. "I knew that people loved my husband, but I don't think I knew it like I know it now. It's been extraordinary."

His daughter, Patricia Shuttlesworth Massengill, said she, too, was surprised at the immense outpouring of love by people from all over the country.

"I've had people from all over tell me how much they appreciate the sacrifices that Daddy made," she said. "I told them that they couldn't be any prouder of them than we are. We love him to pieces and I know I'm going to miss him."

Another daughter, Ruby Shuttlesworth Bester, said her father would have enjoyed the tributes.

"Birmingham has really been exceptionally kind to Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth," she said.

Cincinnati City Councilmember Cecil Thomas, who was born in Birmingham, said Rev. Shuttlesworth paved the way for his success.

"When I look back on what he went through, that is why where I am today," Thomas said. "He fought the good fight. He challenged the issues and made life better for folks like myself. So, I'm standing on his shoulders."

Many of those who attended the public visitation for Rev. Shuttlesworth at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute stopped to take pictures of the statue erected in his honor at the building's entrance.

A number of them said they feel that he hasn't gotten the kind of recognition he deserves for the work he did.

"I believe that's going to happen," Sephira said. "There are some extraordinary details that may have been left out of history with regards to Fred, but he was never one to toot his own horn.

"He has a wonderful family that he leaves behind who will see to it that his legacy is strong and that his contributions are understood by many more Americans," she added.

His daughter, Ruby, plans to help with that by writing a book to be called, "Thank You, Rev. Shuttlesworth."

"I'm starting in 1922 and stating everything that I know," she said.

Rev. Aaron Greenlea of St. Elizabeth Baptist Church said Rev. Shuttlesworth has been getting deserved recognition the past 10 or 15 years, but has been overshadowed by the legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King.

"Fred was a guy I always said was fearless," he said. "Fear was not in his vocabulary because he went up against some tough people in government places."

"Martin was leader, but Fred was an instigator and his body proved the scars he took for the movement," said Rev. Greenlea. "I just pray young people will get to know about Fred as they did about Martin."

Shuttlesworth was often beaten, survived two bombings and by his own count was arrested 35 times.

Rev. Dr. H.L. Harvey of the New Friendship Baptist Church put it a different way.

"Everybody looks at Martin Luther King, but before there was Martin Luther King, there was a Fred Shuttlesworth. Before there was a Jesse Jackson, there was a Fred Shuttlesworth. Before there was an Al Sharpton, there was a Fred Shuttlesworth," he said. "Fred Shuttlesworth started all of this -- and they came on and hooked onto his coat-tail."

One Cincinnatian who is working hard to boost the Shuttlesworth

legacy is Dick Weiland, who has raised $500,000 to fund scholarships at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College.

"I've probably had 100 phone calls from people saying they want to help, too," he said. "It's so important that we continue the legacy of not only helping education, but the homeless and the hungry and all the other things that Fred so deeply believed in."

It was 1957 when Rev. Shuttlesworth co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) with Rev. Martin Luther King and Rev. Ralph Abernathy.

Dr. Harold Barnes, Sr., Director of the SCLC Foundation said people will continue to follow the spirit exhibited by. Rev. Shuttlesworth.

"It was the spirit of leadership, the spirit of fellowship and the spirit of love that he had for all mankind," he said. "The thing about his spirit is it always points to something greater than itself and the thing to which Fred pointed to was love and he wanted to be like God, which is love."

Sephira Shuttlesworth said once all the celebrations are over, she will relax for the first time in months.

"Somebody sent me a throw, a quilted throw, that has his likeness on it," she said. "I'm going to wrap myself in that throw and just spend some time with my memories because I have some wonderful memories of Fred Shuttlesworth -- different than most."

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