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A Fire You Can't Put Out

The Civil Rights Life of Birmingham's Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth

Written by Andrew M. Manis

Publication Year: 2010

This first biography of Fred Shuttlesworth-winner of both the 2000 Lillian Smith Award and the 2001 James F. Sulzby Jr. Award-details the fascinating life of the controversial preacher who led integration efforts in Birmingham with the courage and fervor of a religious crusader.

When Fred Shuttlesworth suffered only a bump on the head in the 1956 bombing of his home, members of his church called it a miracle. Shuttlesworth took it as a sign that God would protect him on the mission that had made him a target that night. Standing in front of his demolished home, Shuttlesworth vigorously renewed his commitment to integrate Birmingham's buses, lunch counters, police force, and parks. The incident transformed him, in the eyes of Birmingham's blacks, from an up-and-coming young minister to a virtual folk hero and, in the view of white Birmingham, from obscurity to rabble-rouser extraordinaire.

From his 1956 founding of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights through the historic demonstrations of 1963, driven by a sense of divine mission, Shuttlesworth pressured Jim Crow restrictions in Birmingham with radically confrontational acts of courage. His intensive campaign pitted him against the staunchly segregationist police commissioner Eugene "Bull" Connor and ultimately brought him to the side of Martin Luther King Jr. and to the inner chambers of the Kennedy White House.

First published in 1999, Andrew Manis's award-winning biography of "one of the nation's most courageous freedom fighters" demonstrates compellingly that Shuttleworth's brand of fiery, outspoken confrontation derived from his prophetic understanding of the pastoral role. Civil rights activism was tantamount to salvation in his understanding of the role of Christian minister.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Contents

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pp. vii-

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Preface

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pp. ix-xiv

Somewhere in these pages the reader will find a mature Fred Shuttlesworth looking back over what he called a "vagabond life." Such has been the case for me in the twelve years that I have worked on the book you now—finally—have in your hands. Since beginning the research I have changed jobs and cities and life situations. ...

Abbreviations

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pp. xv-

Chronology

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pp. xvi-xxxii

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Introduction

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pp. 1-9

Fred Shuttlesworth was back in Birmingham, but this time in unaccustomed fashion—welcomed back. Gloating only slightly, the preacher read the edi torial headline "Welcome, Jailbirds" in the same newspaper that had once called for his prosecution. Over the intervening years, on return trips to his boyhood home ...

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1. Alberta

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pp. 10-34

According to an old southern story, a young boy once asked, "Daddy, what makes a lightning bug light?" Hoping not to appear stumped and thus preserve the mystique of parental omniscience, the father offered a long and purposely bewildering explanation. After several moments, the bemused lad cut through the verbiage, ...

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2. Ready

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pp. 35-67

In 1941, much like an America not yet ready to fight Hitler or Jim Crow, Fred Shuttlesworth was not yet prepared for a preaching or a civil rights life. By his lights God took care of that process over the next thirteen years. During this time Fred led a "vagabond life." ...

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3. Bethel

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pp. 68-112

The book of Genesis tells of the patriarch Jacob's encounters with the Hebrew God at a village called Luz. At that holy place God eventually changed the name of the patriarch to Israel, and the patriarch changed the name of the place to Bethel, the "house of God," ...

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4. Agitation

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pp. 113-161

By sunrise on December 26, 1956, Fred Shuttlesworth's followers had taken a giant step toward becoming a people in motion—and not just those who had actually heard the bomb. The African American community throughout Birmingham began hearing the reverberations on the day after Christmas. ...

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5. "Bull"fighting

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pp. 162-212

When Bull Connor swore the oath of office as commissioner of public safety on November 4, 1957, he might as easily have been pledging his allegiance to the southern way of life and to resisting Fred Shuttlesworth "so help me, God." In his inaugural address he argued the constitutionality of segregation laws ...

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6. Stalemate

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pp. 213-252

Although brought low by Connor's public airing of the Smiley letter, Fred Shuttlesworth refused to stay down long. His moments of emotional weakness usually and quickly gave way to a religious hopefulness and a predisposition to project an image of strength. A real man should be strong ...

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7. Jailbirds

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pp. 253-299

The inauguration of a new young president created among many Americans an almost euphoric feeling of possibility. As far back as during the New Deal, black America had begun shifting its political allegiance away from the party of Lincoln, and the 1960 presidential campaign of candidate John F. Kennedy significantly moved the transition along. ...

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8. Confrontations

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pp. 300-342

Shuttlesworth's combative persona naturally created opportunities for conflict, and between March 1961 and the eve of the major demonstrations in 1963, Shuttlesworth clashed with individuals on several fronts. As he pressed for the SCLC to aid his cause in Birmingham, he ran afoul of the black middle class and the white business leaders ...

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9. Cataclysm

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pp. 342-390

Almost two months before the cataclysmic demonstrations in 1963, Birmingham police officer W. E. Chilcoat noticed speakers at mass meetings tipping off ACMHR members of something momentous in the offing. At an early February mass meeting, Bill Shortridge hinted that the big event would occur in March ...

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10. "Actionist"

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pp. 391-439

Fred Shuttlesworth's involvement in civil rights after 1963, and certainly after Martin Luther King's death in 1968, attracted less national attention than had been the case up to that time. Still, he retained his status as, in his words, an "actionist." ...

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Epilogue

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pp. 440-445

Martin Luther King was a messianic figure to his people. After his martyrdom, those who had worked closely with him unwittingly found themselves part of a process of becoming his apostles—at least such was the popular perception. Since his assassination, King has become a mythic figure, ...

Notes

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pp. 447-505

Bibliography

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pp. 507-523

Index

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pp. 525-541


E-ISBN-13: 9780817313456
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817311568

Page Count: 576
Publication Year: 2010