Birmingham, Ala. At one end of the fire hose were officers deployed by Bull Connor, the notoriously racist police commissioner fond of telling his men to use sticks, dogs and whatever else was necessary to scatter peaceful black protesters.
At the business end was the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, the Birmingham, Ala., preacher who — as much or more than any of his contemporaries, the leaders of the civil rights movement — had a penchant for putting himself in harm’s way in the name of equality.
Shuttlesworth, who survived bombings, beatings and that 1963 encounter with the fire hose that left him with chest injuries, died Wednesday at 89 at Princeton Baptist Medical Center in Birmingham, relatives and hospital officials said, half a century after his repeated refusals to back down to Connor and the Ku Klux Klan helped even the fight for civil rights in the South and beyond.
“When God made Bull Connor, one of the real negative forces in this country, He was sure to make Fred Shuttlesworth,” said the Rev. Joseph Lowery, a fellow pioneer in the movement.
Shuttlesworth, a truck driver turned Baptist minister, never gained the kind of fame outside his native Alabama bestowed on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other luminaries. But without him, King might not have sent his forces to Birmingham when he did.
“Fred didn’t invite us to come to Birmingham,” said Andrew Young, the former Atlanta mayor and U.N. ambassador who served as an aide to King. “He told us we had to come.”
Shuttlesworth became pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1953 and soon began openly challenging segregation despite repeated arrests and attempts on his life.