Posts Tagged ‘civil rights’

Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth passed away this Wednesday at the age of 89. Don’t know who Fred Shuttlesworth was? Maybe you, like many who were too young to experience or remember it themselves, know only a smattering of names from the modern Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and his isn’t quite as well known as others. The list of people as central to the movement as Shuttlesworth is very short.

Born in 1922 in rural Alabama, Shuttlesworth was raised by his mother and stepfather, a farmer. After working as a truck driver during World War II, he believed that he had been called to be a minister and studied first at Cedar Grove Bible College and then at Selma University before graduating from Alabama State College in 1952. He became the pastor of Selma’s First Baptist Church but quickly moved to Birmingham’s Bethel Baptist Church, and it would be in Birmingham that Shuttlesworth rose to prominence. In Birmingham, he participated in the NAACP’s voter registration activities and then founded the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights when the state effectively banned the NAACP’s activities. He and other leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ralph Abernathy founded the Southern Christian Leadership Council. Although Shuttlesworth concentrated many of his efforts in Birmingham, he also supported civil rights activities like the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He pressured other civil rights leaders to act in what would become the pivotal demonstrations of the mid-1960s that propelled forward the Civil Rights Act (1964) and Voting Rights Act (1965). Shuttlesworth’s activities drew the ire of Birmingham’s Commissioner of Public Safety Eugene “Bull” Connor, who campaigned on a platform of enforcing segregation. Shuttlesworth experienced bombings at his home and church as well as beatings and intimidation.

Even though Shuttlesworth eventually left Birmingham to assume the pastorship of a Baptist church in Cincinnati, he never lost touch with his roots. He returned frequently to the south to participate in civil rights actions even as he worked for justice and equality in his new Ohio home.

I visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and Museum, which Shuttlesworth helped to create, and photographed this statue of him.

Fred Shuttlesworth

I had the honor of meeting Rev. Shuttlesworth about 10 years ago, just for a few moments. My graduate advisor had invited him to speak to her class on the history of race relations in the U.S., and she motioned me into the room to meet him. He was, at the time, about 79 or 80, and he was not a physically large man, but he was fiery and passionate. Of course, one of the things he wanted me to understand was that the activists were not gods but imperfect men and women who felt compelled to act by their belief in justice and equality informed by their religious convictions. Shuttlesworth knew that not everyone in the civil rights movement agreed with him or even liked him (and vice versa), but they still managed to work together to change the world in which they lived. He made a distinct impression on me in those few moments, and I recognized even then what a rare privilege it was to meet with someone who played such a pivotal role in shaping our society.

Of course, there’s no cemetery photo to post today but the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute has already announced that his gravesite will be integrated into their Civil Rights tour.

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When I was trying to decide what to write about for Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, I begin to think about some of the amazing people that I have chanced to meet. I respect the work of Dr. King and other nationally known figures, but I wanted to write about something more personal.

There are no photos that I have taken for this post, and I met this man just once, very briefly. I want to tell you a little about Dr. Donald Spencer. I met Dr. Spencer at his home about 6 years and shook his hand because I had traveled there to interview his wife, Dr. Marian Spencer, for my master’s project in women’s studies. I feel like I knew him slightly better than I did because her description of her social justice activities and life was so deeply interwoven with her partnership with her husband.

The Spencers were (and I am sure she still is) advocates for civil rights in Cincinnati for their adult lives. They met at the University of Cincinnati, where he had helped create a student organization (Quadres) to allow African-American students to participate more fully in student life. Donald Spencer was a member of the NAACP, the first African-American trustee of Ohio University, a teacher, and one of the first African-American real estate agents in the area. He and his wife were both prominent leaders in the city.  He also supported fully his wife Marian in her efforts – her lawsuit to desegregate Cincinnati’s Coney Island in 1952 and her career in city politics. They both worked for desegregation of local institutions and voting rights. Dr. Donald Spencer died May 4, 2010, at the age of 95.

I cannot do justice to the life of Dr. Donald Spencer, so I will provide you with some links: here is an interview with Dr. Spencer from 2005. The Cincinnati Enquirer published lengthy profiles of him after his death. Here is a report on the tribute given for him.

I have not been to any memorial for Dr. Spencer. I am not certain where he is buried, if he is buried. But I offer these words as flowers for him.

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On this date in 1967, Carl B. Stokes was sworn in as the Mayor of Cleveland, making him the first African-American mayor of Cleveland and, according to some, a major United States city. (I have not been able to find anything that clarified what qualifies as a “major” city , as he was not the first black mayor in the U.S.) A native Clevelander, Stokes was raised by his mother after his father passed away when he was still a toddler. After serving in the U.S. Army, Stokes earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota and a law degree from the Cleveland-Marshall School of Law. He became a lawyer and embarked on a political career, serving in the Ohio House of Representatives before he won election as Cleveland’s mayor.

Stokes’ time as mayor reflected the unrest common in much of the country. His accomplishments included raising the city income tax, passage of the Equal Opportunity Ordinance, improvement of sewage treatment facilities, and increased city funding of education, public welfare, and public safety. He initiated a program called “Cleveland: Now!” to fund a rehabilitation of Cleveland. Unfortunately, that program ultimately served as a detriment, when the leaders of the Glenville Shootout were revealed to have misused funding from the program to purchase firearms.

After his time in office, Stokes became a news anchorman in New York City and then returned to Cleveland to serve as a judge from 1983-1994. President Bill Clinton appointed Stokes as ambassador to Seychelles. In 1996, Stokes succumbed to cancer of the esophagus. He is buried in Lake View Cemetery near the pond behind Wade Chapel. Cleveland has honored their son by naming the Federal Court building downtown for him.

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If you are enjoying today as a holiday in the Buckeye state, you have a man buried near this monument to thank.


John Patterson Green (1845-1940) was the representative in the Ohio House of Representatives who introduced the bill that established Labor Day in Ohio. Over the course of his career, he was a lawyer, justice of the peace, state representative, state senator, and Government Stamp Agent. A Republican party member, he was an advocate for civil rights.


(Apologies for photo quality – this side is for two of Green’s sons.)


Despite his political career and its historical significance – he was the first African-American elected to office in Cuyahoga County and to the state Senate (and only second in the state House) in addition to founding Labor Day – the monument does not indicate his burial here. His name appears only as a husband and father. The cemetery foundation has been able to verify his interment through cemetery records.

The back side of the monument is blank, possibly meant for him.


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