The Birmingham News, Jeff Roberts, Associated Press
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, often eclipsed by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in life, was praised Sunday as the catalyst who brought the civil rights movement to Birmingham and launched King into immortality.
Those who knew him best urged others to continue the tireless example he set, working long after victory in the 1963 campaign to liberate the segregated Southern city he called home. Fellow preachers, foot soldiers from the movement, and members of his family told a crowd gathered at the historic 16th Street Baptist Church that for all of his heroic efforts, the fiery minister's work remains undone.
Attorney General Eric Holder told the audience: "Without him, there would be no me."
"We are bound by more than sorrow," Holder said. "We are united by our shared admiration of Reverend Shuttlesworth, by our deep appreciation of his legacy, and perhaps most importantly by our collective responsibility to carry on his critical work, and to live up to the example of service that he left to us."
A parade of clergy lined up to give Shuttlesworth his due at the memorial, which lasted nearly three hours. Five decades ago, when a little-known black Baptist preacher named Martin Luther King took the helm of the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott in 1955, Shuttlesworth was already in Birmingham trying to start a movement, but hardly anyone was paying attention.
Shuttlesworth was from a small church. His credentials and pedigree made it easy for local whites to dismiss him as a radical. Until King came to Birmingham, Shuttlesworth couldn't get the national press to recognize his city as the embodiment of the horrors of the segregated South.
He was just another black preacher getting beat up, said former Atlanta mayor, congressman and United Nations ambassador Andrew Young, who worked alongside King and Shuttlesworth in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. All three men helped establish the organization in 1957.
"They were sued together, they helped organize SCLC together," Young said of King and Shuttlesworth. "He wanted the spotlight very much, but there wasn't but one Martin Luther King."
It was King who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and went on to become the icon of the civil rights movement. Shuttlesworth, who was overshadowed in life by his comrade in the movement, was again eclipsed by King in death.
Though he died nearly three weeks ago, Shuttlesworth is only now being buried on Monday. The reason for the delay: The dedication of the King Memorial on the National Mall, sending most of Shuttlesworth's civil rights colleagues to Washington last weekend.
Had they not been there, they would have likely been in Birmingham remembering Shuttlesworth.
"His friends and Martin's friends were the same," Young said. "But you don't have two memorials at the same time if you want your friends to come." Shuttlesworth's funeral will be Monday.
Among the events held in Shuttlesworth's honor was a public viewing of his body at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and a panel discussion at the Birmingham Museum of Art.
In tribute, many at the 16th Street Baptist Church — where four black girls were killed in a bombing before Sunday services on September 15, 1963 — recalled Shuttlesworth's courage but also called on those left to mourn him to be courageous. Holder said Shuttlesworth was a warrior for justice and advocate for peace who has left behind a legacy for the country to follow.
The attorney general used the occasion to point out Alabama's strict new immigration, considered the toughest crackdown in the nation. He said too many in Alabama "are willing to turn their backs on our immigrant past" and he would not let that happen. The Obama administration is among the parties suing the state to block the law.
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