Wednesday, Steve Jobs and Fred Shuttlesworth both passed away. More than once, I’ve
seen people say how Jobs made the world a better place. I beg to differ, however. At best, Jobs made this world easier and more enjoyable. Fred Shuttlesworth, however, truly made the world a better place. And, most of us have never heard of him.
Fred Shuttlesworth was a Baptist preacher and one of the leaders of the Civil Rights
movement of the 1950’s and 60’s, just not one of the ones you’ve heard of unless you’re really into this kind of stuff. He was membership chairman of the Alabama NAACP when the state outlawed it, so he and some colleagues set up the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights to carry on the work of the NAACP. They sued the City of Birmingham to force them to hire black police officers and worked to end segregation in the city’s
bus line, much the same way that Martin Luther King did in Montgomery. Along with King and Ralph Abernathy, he was a founding member of Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Shuttlesworth was instrumental in the success of the Freedom Rides in 1960, even though he was against the idea at first, believing that the climate in Alabama
was not safe for such an undertaking. However, when he saw that the riders were determined to go through with their plan, he did his utmost to see it through, aiding injured riders and helping them all get where they needed to be. He invited
to King to Birmingham in 1963 and set in motion the confrontation that led to Police Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor turning police dogs and fire hoses on demonstrators, all of which was captured by news cameras and shown across the country. No longer could Americans turn a blind eye to what was going on in the Land of the “Free”.
All this came at a cost, however. Shuttlesworth survived numerous murder and assassination attempts. In December of 1956, someone detonated 16 sticks of dynamite outside his bedroom window (after similar attack on MLK’s home). No one was hurt, but wood and glass from blast ruined his coat and hat, hanging from a peg in the bedroom where he slept. When a police officer told him “If I were you, I’d get out of town as quick as I could”, Shuttlesworth told him to tell the Klan he wasn’t going anywhere and “I wasn’t saved to run”. The next day, he led 250 people in a protest of Birmingham’s segregated bus policy. In 1957, while attempting to enroll his children in an all-white school, he was attacked by a mob of Klansmen and beaten with chains and brass knuckles. His wife was also stabbed in the attack. Shuttlesworth lost consciousness, but was dragged away and driven to safety. In 1958, another bomb attempt was foiled by a church member acting as a sentry who found the bomb and moved it away before it went off. He knew the risks he was taking, saying he would “kill segregation or be killed by it.”
After the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 (something else he was heavily involved with), he continued to work for social and economic justice with the Shuttlesworth Housing Foundation (assisting families who might not otherwise be able to afford their own home) and the Birmingham Pledge, a grassroots commitment to combat racism and prejudice which has been used for programs in all 50 states and 20 other countries. Without Fred Shuttlesworth, where would the we be now?
Set against a record like that, iPods, MacBooks and iPads are shown for what they are: toys. Very nice toys, ones that do make things little easier, but toys nonetheless. I’m not saying we shouldn’t mourn the loss of Steve Jobs. His was a very innovative and creative mind and the world needs more of that. I am saying that, in our rush to commemorate someone who gave these remarkable gadgets, we shouldn’t forget a man who gave his life to improve the lot of others. It’s a crying shame that if Shuttlesworth was mentioned at all on Wednesday,all too many people said “Fred who?”.