The Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth, a leader of the civil rights movement in Birmingham during the 1950's, passed away Wednesday morning after a long illness. He was 89.
Sources tell FOX6 News Shuttlesworth died at 10:28 a.m.
Wednesday afternoon, President Obama issued a statement in which he expressed his condolences to Shuttlesworth's family and shared a memory of a time he wheeled Rev. Shuttlesworth across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.
"Michelle and I were saddened to hear about the passing of Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth today. As one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Reverend Shuttlesworth dedicated his life to advancing the cause of justice for all Americans. He was a testament to the strength of the human spirit. And today we stand on his shoulders, and the shoulders of all those who marched and sat and lifted their voices to help perfect our union.
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. America owes Reverend Shuttlesworth a debt of gratitude, and our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Sephira, and their family, friends and loved ones," Obama said in the release.
Dr. Lawrence Pijeaux, President and CEO of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, expressed his sadness over Shuttlesworth's death as well.
"We have lost a true American hero," Pijeaux said in a phone interview with Fox 6. Pijeaux described Shuttlesworth as a mentor and "a man whose efforts during the 50's and 60's still have a positive impact on human relations around the world."
Shuttlesworth, born in Mount Meigs, AL, in 1922, was very active as a preacher of the gospel and civil rights in Birmingham during the 1950's. He served as pastor of Birmingham's Bethel Baptist Church. He was beaten and arrested numerous times for his activism and was the target of several acts of violence, including the bombing of his house on Christmas Day in 1956 and a beating in front of the old Phillips High School in 1957.
[To see WBRC civil rights videos and exclusive interviews with Fred Shuttlesworth, visit the WBRC Civil Rights Vault: www.myfoxal.com/vault]
Shuttlesworth formed the Alabama Christian Rights Movement and helped create the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, of which he was secretary for many years.
Shuttlesworth left Alabama in 1961 and moved to Cincinatti to become pastor of Revelation Baptist Church and, later, Greater Light Baptist Church, where he continued to work against racism. However, he frequently returned to Alabama to continue efforts to end racism. Shuttlesworth organized numerous lunch counter sit-ins and bus boycotts during the 1960's. He also helped organize the Freedom Rides and Project C.
In 2000, Shuttlesworth was awarded the President's Citizens Medal by President Clinton. He returned to Birmingham after his retirement in 2007.
In October 2008, the Birmingham Airport Authority changed the name of the Birmingham International Airport to Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport.
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