Fred Shuttlesworth: Why He Mattered

I didn't know him, but I knew him. I never met him, but I felt him. All of us, beneficiaries of equality, have known and felt the presence of The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth like a passing wind.
10/08/2011 10:06 am ET Updated Dec 08, 2011

Mark 10:21: Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

I didn't know him, but I knew him. I never met him, but I felt him. All of us, beneficiaries of equality, have known and felt the presence of The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth like a passing wind.
Of the many things which must be said, it is most fitting to begin with "Thank You." Contrary to popular belief, a minister is not the only one who is called. God calls each of us: to do something, to say something, to go somewhere. You and I are called by God. So today we thank a man who abandoned everything, everyone (he said even his own family was second) to answering God's call.

It is said when Christ bids a man to come, he "bids him to die." Rev. Shuttlesworth knew this and felt this. God's call is clear and uncompromising, it requires all of you -- not some, not a piece, but all. We try to broker with God, offering Him part of our lives, setting aside time for Him, but God wants it all. Fred Shuttlesworth gave his all, for generations yet unborn who would forget him, dis-remember him, yet still benefit from his passing presence.

Next, we must ask a question of this man. How? Or perhaps more appropriately: Why? Why did you do it? Why did you live in the shadow of a King? Why did you not seek to be out front? One of life's great challenges is being yourself; being comfortable in your own skin; being happy with who you are. Most of us are not. When we do a roll call of that era and the people who mattered, we remember King, Kennedy, Johnson, Parks, Abernathy. Shuttlesworth doesn't make our list.

When Dr. King wanted to leave the Birmingham protest, Shuttlesworth convinced him to stay. Yet he doesn't make our list.

When attack dogs, blood-hounds, and fire-hoses terrorized blacks, Shuttlesworth demanded justice. Yet he doesn't make our list.

His home was bombed and his body was beaten. Yet he doesn't make our list.

Shuttlesworth was not concerned with a legacy. And this allowed him to live unapologetically, being himself. He lived, never quite fitting the mold of those who we like to remember.

We try to mold ourselves into someone else, because we feel that as we are, no one will remember us. But God's call is a unique and personal call. God's call can only be realized in the individual. We don't need another King, another Abernathy, and another Mother Teresa. We need you.God needs you.

When we stop trying to be like everyone else, and accept God's acceptance of us, we begin to answer God's call. For the great certainty of history is this: a life lived in truth. When you live being true to yourself and who god has called you to be -- a life lived in this truth -- will always be remembered.

Fred Shuttlesworth knew this. Fred Shuttlesworth felt this. And we are forced because of the truth in his life to remember him.

"May the works I've done speak for me, may the life I've lived speak for me. When I'm resting in my grave and there's nothing more to be said, may the works I've done speak for me."

I never met him, but through his work I know him. I never touched him, but through his life I feel him. We will forever remember The Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth.

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A Tribute to Fred Shuttlesworth