- Baptist minister and civil rights leader who preached leftwing politics
- Rallied to defense of Jean-Bertrand Aristide while condemning the U.S.
- Died on October 5, 2011
Born on March 18, 1922 in Mount Meigs Alabama, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth emerged as one of the most active and storied figures of the early civil rights movement. In 1957 Shuttlesworth allied with Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph David Abernathy, and Bayard Rustin to found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). It was the late Dr. King who would describe the famously fiery Shuttlesworth as the “most courageous civil rights fighter in the South,” a distinction well earned by the man who survived bombing attempts, vicious beatings by chain-wielding racists, and widespread discrimination in his fight to further the cause of black civil rights and overturn America’s Jim Crow laws. The story of Shuttlesworth’s civil rights activism was later chronicled in a 1999 biography, by Andrew M. Manis, titled A Fire You Can’t Put Out: The Civil Rights Life of Birmingham’s Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth.
These accomplishments notwithstanding, Shuttlesworth’s stint as the president of the SCLC would make for a decidedly less inspired book. After the SCLC’s board of directors suspended Shuttlesworth in early November 2004, he resigned in bitterness over the financial mismanagement and internal bickering that had marred the organization’s operations in recent years. Lamenting that the SCLC was at “the low point in its history,” Shuttlesworth penned an incendiary resignation letter in which he charged: “For years, deceit, mistrust and a lack of spiritual discipline and truth have eaten away at the core of this once-hallowed organization.”
Shuttlesworth was far less forthcoming about his own responsibility for the SCLC’s much-maligned reputation. In March of 2004, for instance, he enlisted his credentials as a respected civil rights leader in the service of defending Haitian dictator Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Working in partnership with the Congressional Black Caucus, Shuttlesworth, rather than condemning the crimes of the Aristide government—which included fraudulent elections, pervasive drug running, and a banking racket that had brought about the ruin of the country’s diminutive middle class—chastised the United States, calling for a special investigation to look into the U.S. role in Aristide’s ouster. Demonstrating the kind of moral equivalency that has become a cornerstone of the SCLC in recent years, Shuttlesworth saw fit to draw parallels between Haitian autocracy and American democracy in order to score a political point against the U.S. government.
Claimed Shuttlesworth, “As a nation of laws, we cannot randomly choose when to stand up for the principles of Democracy. How can we in good consciousness claim to be building a democratic society in Afghanistan and Iraq on the other side of the world, while sitting idly by while a democratically elected leader is forced from office less than two hundred miles from the shores of the United States. Such conduct further weakens the United State’s moral authority to hold countries accountable for human rights abuses.”
Nor did Shuttlesworth confine himself to this diatribe. Indulging a penchant for race-baiting that has become the SCLC’s modus operandi, Shuttlesworth unsubtly intimated that the Bush administration’s unwillingness to abide the Aristide regime was actuated by an underlying indifference to the welfare of blacks: “In reality we should not expect anything else from this current administration, as it has done nothing to protect the interests of people of African descent,” Shuttlesworth proclaimed.
Shuttlesworth is a great admirer of such leftist activists as Danny Glover. Though a notorious apologist for the human rights abuses perpetrated by Cuba’s Stalinist regime, the actor was deemed a worthy recipient of the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award, which he received, in November 2003, at a gala dinner in Birmingham, Alabama. And Glover was not the only leftist activist commended by Shuttlesworth. At the SCLC’s 46th annual convention in August 2004, organized by Shuttlesworth as a de facto campaign for the Democratic Party (and featuring an address by Democratic Vice Presidential nominee John Edwards), a “Human Rights Luncheon” honored none other than Cynthia McKinney, a hard-left congresswoman from Georgia who accused President Bush of having had prior knowledge of the 9/11 attacks but remaining silent about it.
On occasion, Shuttlesworth himself has not been above casting unfounded aspersions on his political foes. Seeking to mobilize black voters against the administration of George W. Bush, Shuttlesworth, in his editorial in the Spring 2004 issue of SCLC Magazine, suggested that the President had not been legitimately elected. “It will be a time for people to know that not all of those who gained high offices in 2000 were the true victors,” Shuttlesworth wrote. Channeling the rage for which he was known in the civil rights era, Shuttlesworth insisted in the same editorial that black Americans were “oppressed minorities,” and exhorted black voters to “organize, mobilize, and agitate for our people’s total Freedom!”
Shuttlesworth died on October 5, 2011 in Birmingham, Alabama.