Shuttlesworth Legacy

Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth was a giant of man, perhaps not in physical stature but his tenacious spirit, energetic zeal, and stubborn, determined courage to complete his task and free his people is unmatched. His fiery sermons made an indelible impression on every heart who heard him, his commitment was contagious, it made the fearful and apathetic feel the potential of change. Even his enemies knew he was not a man that could be left alone, for he champion a cause whose time had come and had the power to invigorate a people. His faith was deeply rooted in the word of God, it was for this reason even the shadow of death couldn’t stop him. His confidence in God was authenticated, because he didn’t even move his family from the potential dangers threatening them every day.

The dangers were not clandestine activity, that day in the late 50’s and 60’s was characterized by the blatant hatred, bloody, violent vulgarities and their constant companion, death. I was twelve year old when he baptized me during a revival at my mother’s church, Zion Star Baptist Church where she had been a member now for over 70 years, since before I was born. I sat there on the front row of what was called then, “the mourning bench,” I never knew what that meant. But I did know if I got up and left it, my mother would see to it I would be “mourning” for a great while to come. I also knew when he was through preaching, you had to do something you could never hear this man and remain the same.

I didn’t know the impact he was to have on my life it was like when a father speaks into the spirit of a son, words so deeply embedded it starts to mold character and purpose. Without a doubt it was more than mama that had me on that pew all that week, it was an appointment with God. It was Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth who brought Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Birmingham, Alabama at a time when Rev. Shuttlesworth had already suffered tremendous abuse and paid great prices. What became known as the Civil Rights Movement was born here amid much bloodshed, pain and humiliation. He was the kind of soldier in the trenches that every warrior wants beside him, the kind of cavalier spirit a war can’t do without. It was not headlines he sought or history he was trying to make, but change he knew his people couldn’t wait without another day. Though all this and more would be mention from the mouth of America’s greatest men, where presidents would bow before him, it was his love that made him a driven man. And I was given the privilege and honor of his hands taking me under the water in baptism after confessing Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour.

I had no idea the impact on my life or the role he was to play. It would be four decades later at a funeral of a pastor’s wife in Chicago that would start our conversations. As I left the pulpit after speaking walking down the aisle, someone grab my hand, as I looked down to my amazement it was Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. His hands had touched me again, but this time I had been pastoring for over 35 years, I felt as if something had been transferred. I was never to forget that moment or what it meant to me! I was approaching a number in ministry in biblical numerology that meant maturity, the completion of a maturation process. Forty is a number of a “turning point” a time of climatic change, it is the end of a probationary period.

It relates to enlarged dominion and extended rule, actions of grace leading to and ending in revival and renewal. I had no idea my time of being able to talk with Rev. Shuttlesworth was coming to an end, as well as my time of pastoring and what I had known for the last 40 years. I did not know I was to launch something that would be the continuation of what Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth had begun. In one of our conversations, before he fell ill, I asked him where do you think we go from here, what is the continuation. His words exactly were, “Bishop it is spiritual, it will have to be spiritual!” Then we talked a little about what that meant, the real version of it. This generation is the one that is missing fathers, it is my generation that should have followed Rev. Shuttlesworth picking up the torch, leading the way, lighting a path. However, we drop the ball. We failed an entire generation, the devastation is too much to try and conceal or parse words, that is not the spirit I witnessed during the era of the 60’s under Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. There was no celebration then, the battle had not been won yet, the heroes were still falling, we had not time to stop and divide ourselves among the sexes or classes. The enemies saw all of us the same, “Negro.” The devastation leaves us one course of action and one people fighting it.

“And they that be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in,” (Isa.58:12). God is not asking us to waste time in regret, but to spend it in restoration and repair. It would be so easy to just celebrate with our banners, slogans great speakers and banquets, but restoration and repair doesn’t leave much time for that. What is so puzzling is the fact that during the last 40 years, it never occurred to me that this much ruin was taking place right under my nose. The responsibility and ingenuity nor the muscle required ever occurred to me or was I mindful I had something to do. Had someone asked me, I probably would have rehearsed all the programs I had going on in my church serving the community.

I might have mentioned all the boards I was on, my international travels to foreign countries preaching the gospel or my meetings with black men. Looking back over 40 years, I never made a dent, even with all my accolades, looks good on a resume’ but I didn’t change statistics on black men. May God be praised for all the wonderful things that did take place, certainly wasn’t me, but how am I to deal with this conviction hanging over my head now as the twilight years settle in. That wasn’t the way Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth dealt with it, he balanced a very hectic life with making a difference through Christ. I think I’ll color him father, I think I’ll color him love, I’ll let him define endurance, courage and fight, the only word not found in his dictionary is, “quit.” How many sons are ready to join me and claim that DNA while we “repair the breach and restore the paths.” As sons of the movement, we can petition God on the basis of His grace and what He granted our fathers and entreat Him for their sakes. That what He promised them be fulfilled in us, that before this life is over, we leave a testimony for our sons, a legacy that lives in us.