Thursday, October 6, 2011

In Memoriam: Dr. Fred Shuttlesworth (1922-2011)

Dr. Fred Shuttlesworth, perhaps one of the most courageous Civil Rights leaders and patriots of our lifetime, died yesterday at the age of 89. 

Because of my relationship with a few people who knew some of the leaders of the Civil Rights struggle, I have had the opportunity to meet a number of these icons. It was because of my relationship with Peter Johnson that I had the inspiring privilege to meet Dr. Shuttlesworth when he came to Dallas in 2003. 

Those of you who get tongue-tied or star struck when you meet business leaders, celebrities, or sports figures will understand how I felt when I met him. But even greater was the opportunity to spend time alone with him. His very presence here was a demonstration of the largeness of his spirit. Then, in his 80's, of course, Shuttlesworth had come to Dallas to lend his weight to Peter's and my efforts to try and bring water and sewage service to a small unincorporated area south of Dallas called Sand Branch. This historic figure had come here to lend himself to a cause in which he had no relationship other than the compassion that one man feels for his fellow men, even at an age when any one would have understood him saying that he had done all he could throughout his life. 

Imagine again, my thrill at being the one to introduce him at the meeting held at a church in Sand Branch, he spoke with the vigor and fervor of not only a younger man, but of one in whom the fire to fight for justice and equality still raged.

It was quite an evening.

Ironically, it was an evening made even more special the next year, when my wife and I went to Birmingham on our vacation.

I had read so much about Birmingham over the years that I drove directly to Kelly Ingram Park even though it was my first time there. Across from the park is the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. It is a magnificent center devoted to the history of civil rights in Birmingham and throughout the country. But in front of the BCRI is a statue of Dr. Fred Shuttlesworth. Throughout the museum I was reminded of not only how dangerous those times were (Birmingham was called 'Bombingham', not only because of the dynamite and excavation industry there, but because of the violence inflicted on the black community by white terrorists), and the significance and bravery of Fred Shuttlesworth. He was a short man, but I realized on that trip, that I had spent time with a giant.

Dr. Fred Shuttlesworth lived a long and purpose-filled life. Those of us who had a chance to meet him will celebrate that blessing and dedicate our lives to that for which he and those of his generation committed themselves so selflessly.

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