By Arturo R. García
Civil rights activism lost two pioneers Wednesday night with the passing of Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and legal scholar Derrick Bell.
The careers of Shuttlesworth – a founding member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy and Bayard Rustin – and Bell, who would become the first black tenured law professor and dean of Harvard Law School, seemed to dovetail at times.
In 1957, three years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, Shuttlesworth and his wife, Ruby, famously took their children to Phillips High School in Birmingham, Ala., to break the color barrier. The move came a year after Shuttleworth’s house was bombed by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Shuttlesworth escaped the bombing unharmed, but he would not be so fortunate at Phillips, as Ruby was stabbed and, as he recounted for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in 2003, he was assaulted by a mob:
Each one was hitting and kicking, stomping. I began to realize that on this brilliant day that every time a chain or something would hit my head I would see instant gray. I knew I had to get back to the car.
I noticed that the guy that was sitting next to the car was going to get the last lick with his chain and I felt as if he had having been struck and stomped as much as I had, I probably wouldn’t have been able to get to the car. And I was trying to make up my mind I was just running to him, I don’t know what I was going to do. But anyway I was going to try to get to the car. Here again you must realize you have to figure God does things that you never even thought about. Suppose the door had closed.
Suppose some Klansman had closed the door or suppose as Rev. Woods said, “if it had been me, I would have driven off.” (Laughing) I would have died right there, or if this man had gotten a chance to hit me this one lick I would have been
But somehow or another as I was struggling being pulled at, tearing my clothes and kicking, the last thing I remember was one guy was standing in front as I was getting ready to go to the door where this man was getting ready to swing, somebody kicked me in the side. And somehow or another as I was falling down I think, another one struck me from in front. I didn’t see the guy with the chain. I wasn’t looking for him. I finally if you remember seeing the film, I fell up into the door with my hand and [a friend] reached over and pulled me into the car. And my feet were sticking out the door. The door was still open as we pulled off to go to the hospital.