Interview with Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth


Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth:

Well, you must remember that all the South was in, was against moving forward basically. Even marginal areas like in Tennessee and some other places there wasn't a whole lot going. But here was direct action, you must remember, this is the beginning of quote, "direct action against segregation." In Birmingham, Bull Connor, as I said before, was Mr. Segregation himself. We said that Birmingham was only six inches less than a thousand miles from South Africa. Johannesburg. We determined that the protests in Birmingham, in Montgomery must have some counterparts in, in Birmingham. Now, I say God always has somebody to do. It's a man of faith that gets God's contract to do work. So there I was in Birmingham, and we are determined to move to assist in the Birmingham, in the Montgomery protest. You must remember that our wires were tapped. Dr.—when I, they would would arrest me in Birmingham. When we started protesting, and the wires were tapped, Dr. King sent his whole board up one day to talk to me. I was in jail and Bull Connor's people came out to my house threatening to arrest my wife and all of those. And whenever something would happen, people would call from New York, any place else. The call would come through the Birmingham Police Department. But we determined that, since this is Klan Country, all the Klansmen shouldn't be in Montgomery when the decision came down. We knew it was coming down. My secretary, Nelson Smith and I were at the TV station when the tele—it came over the teletype. Here's how I guess I got into history. Projecting the history famous or otherwise, infamous. Whatever they call it. We determined that we had to, to, create a diversion in Birmingham and since Birmingham was a tough city, we had to take some tough action. We decided that we would urge the City Fathers in Birmingham, which is the commission form of government then, three Commissioners, to rescind the laws in the light of the Supreme Court decision which had not come down on the wire. That wasn't planned between Montgomery and us, that was just my decision. That was—the Negroes at this time followed me, you must remember that since I had been building up a lot of momentum and I was known all over. So that—we say that if you don't rescind the law, we're going to ride the buses anyway, which was an implied threat. They didn't do it, the Ku Klux Klan saw to it that I wouldn't be around to ride the buses, so we were going to ride the buses, I believe it was the night after Christmas, but on Christmas Night in '56 the Klan set about 16 sticks of dynamite right at the head of my bed, the corner of the church, the corner of the house and I was in the bed at the point of the blast. And this dynamite went off about 9:15. It blew the wall between my head and the dynamite away, it blew the floor out from under my bed, space of I guess, 15 feet. The springs that I was lying on, we never found them.** There I was lying on the mattress. I knew the relevance of Moses' statement when he said, "Underneath the everlasting arm." The roof came down, all that dust, the house was about 60 years old, dynamite dust and blast was, smoke, other things were there. This is a strange thing. I, I knew that the bomb was meant for me, I knew what it was, and instantaneously, at the same time I had a sense of presence that I wouldn't get hurt. I knew that. You can know something you never read. And I, I might say to you at that moment all fear was taken from me. I never feared anything since that time. Might be interesting to note that, before that bomb blast went off that night, I would not have gotten on a plane on the ground for a million dollars. And now I hate to be preaching, I hear a plane fly, I get up 'cause you got to understand that God is with you, that God can take care of you and that this is God's way and you are there to do it. I think that's a sense of drive, that's what many people don't understand about what happened back in the deep South. That, that here I am, that this is my duty, I've got to do something. And God is with me, and if God is with me, how can you lose leaning on everlasting arms.** So this nonviolent projection that Dr. King gave, which ought to be preached everywhere in churches, because that's religion you know, helped us. I lived and walked out of that movement, I walked out from this instead of running away from the blast, running away from the Klan, I said to the Klansman police that came, he said, "Reverend, if I were you, I'd get out of town as fast I could." I said, "Officer, you are not me, you go back and tell your Klan brethren that if God could keep me through this, then I'm here for the duration." I think that's what gave people the feeling that I wouldn't run, I didn't run, and that God had to be there.** I think that's what helped build the Birmingham movement.