AG Holder, pastors praise Ala. civil rights icon

By Errin Haines

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Oct. 23 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

The Rev. Tommie Lewis urged Holder to remember Alabama in his duties.

"We got some serious issues down here," Lewis said, looking at the attorney general. "Our issues are not going to be handled between these mountains, down in this valley."

There was also candlelight vigil for Shuttlesworth across the street in Kelly Ingram Park, made famous the same year when news footage of policemen and firemen unleashing dogs and blasting water hoses on defenseless civil rights marchers was broadcast to a shocked international audience.

Long before the television cameras arrived, Shuttlesworth was there, organizing many such nonviolent protests.

Shuttlesworth survived a Christmas 1956 bombing that destroyed his home, an assault during a 1957 protest, chest injuries when Birmingham authorities turned the hoses on demonstrators in 1963 and countless arrests. He moved to Ohio to pastor a church in the early 1960s, but returned frequently to Alabama for key protests. He came back to live in the Birmingham area after he retired a few years ago.

"He was able to see how the civil rights struggle kept reinventing itself in different forms," said Diane McWhorter, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, the Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution."

"He was always there to make it clear that this was a continuous struggle."

McWhorter said she never got the sense that Shuttlesworth was bitter about King overpowering the narrative of the movement, and that he never badmouthed King to her.

"He had a huge ego ... but he never said anything like, 'Oh, I should've been the leader of the movement,'" she said. "He kind of recognized that he couldn't have done what King did. But he was just such a key ingredient that it couldn't have happened without him, either."

Quoting from his book, "My Soul Is Rested: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement in the Deep South," former New York Times Executive Editor Howell Raines, a Birmingham native, said at Sunday's panel: "King's name would've never touched immortality had it not been for Birmingham."

In his 1963 book "Why We Can't Wait," King himself called Shuttlesworth "one of the nation's most courageous freedom fighters."

After Shuttlesworth's death on Oct. 5 — the same week the Rev. Joseph Lowery turned 89 and the Rev. Jesse Jackson turned 70 — Alabama lowered its state flags to half-mast.

"I really do feel like he has sort of gotten his due more and more over the last number of years," McWhorter said. "Partly because he's outlasted everybody, with distinction and class."

Young agreed that Shuttlesworth ultimately received his due, and is recognized as one of the true heroes of the movement. Besides, he pointed out, attention is no substitute for longevity.

"Yes, Martin overshadowed him," Young said of Shuttlesworth. "But he got to live to 89. Martin didn't make it to 40."

Follow Errin Haines on Twitter at www.twitter.com/emarvelous

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