Rhetoric, Religion and the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1965

By Davis W. Houck; David E. Dixon | Go to book overview

§106 Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth

Reverend Shuttlesworth’s biography appears in the introduction to his June 5, 1957 sermon in Birmingham, Alabama. In the following annual address to the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, Reverend Shuttlesworth takes stock of the past year and the iconic status that Birmingham now occupied in the nation’s imagination. Borrowing from President Kennedy, Shuttlesworth employs the “But for Birmingham” phrase to great effect. And while he recounts with no small degree of pride the steps which the city has taken, hate and fear still grip many in Birmingham. It is by no means an integrated city. But Shuttlesworth also places the Birmingham movement in a larger context, one in which the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 and a complete rethinking of blacks’ role in the larger society are its tangible results. Indeed, Birmingham blacks “have forever left the Egypt of discrimination and inequality, and have set their sights upon the promised freedoms of Canaan.” The Birmingham movement also has enabled an important opportunity for religion to be made “real in the lives of men.” Perhaps “Deep South pulpits will no longer be captive; but that from them will sound the Word of God to the Hearts of men.”


The National Civil Rights Crises and Our Relationship To It
Eighth Annual Address to the ACMHR, Birmingham, Alabama
June 5, 1964

The occasion of our Eighth Anniversary as a Movement for Freedom, Justice, and Human Dignity, finds us still deeply engaged with the opposing forces of darkness. We dare not let up in our struggle lest these forces of reaction roll back our gains and turn the hands of the clock back past the horrors of the Slave Period when there was no hope for a man with a “black skin.” We are today more determined that there be no let-up in the struggle, no cowardice in the non-violent battle, no cooling off period in a hot age, and no retreat from the front lines. Each one of us must be Christian, vigilant, consecrated, courageous, and full of faith that he who fights on God’s side is assured of victory.

The gains which ACMHR has accomplished in this the most notoriously segregationist stronghold are numerous, and give us cause for rejoicing, and hope for a brighter future. We rejoice that we can ride buses up front; that Negroes and Whites can visit baseball parks and play ball together; that Negro children can play at Kiddie-Land and the Zoo; that golf courses are open to Negroes; that train terminals, and bus facilities are equally available to all; that doors to all Birmingham public schools are being pried open for Negroes; that segregation signs have bitten the dust all over the city that some stores downtown have desegregated facilities and hired Negro personnel; that Negroes can now eat at the Airport Restaurant

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