The Change We Want to See

Two sets of events events will take place this weekend, things that on the surface have nothing in common. But in my little mind, I see a strong connection.

The first include the weekend of celebratory events planned to commemorate the life and legacy of Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth, who died on October 5. The second is the Birmingham Comprehensive Planning meeting on Saturday.

Visions of the Past

Most of the events commemorating Rev. Shuttlesworth quite naturally focus on his past life here in Birmingham almost 50 years ago. As pastor of Bethel Baptist, he looked around and saw conditions that disturbed him: an American society supposedly built on the ideals of fairness and justice for all was content to allow racial segregation and an unjust Jim Crow system of laws and social customs that robbed him and all Black Americans of their constitutional rights and basic human dignity.

Unlike so many people, Rev. Shuttlesworth did more than talk about what needed to change: he put his hopes, thoughts and ambitions into action.

He preached social justice, encouraged Blacks to register to vote, held mass meetings to teach them how their rights were being violated, and followed examples of civil disobedience in other parts of the country where pastors, young Black and White college students, and emerging civil rights leaders boycotted segregated lunch counters, stores and buses in protest of Jim Crow laws.

Rev. Shuttlesworth worked within the then-powerful NAACP until Alabama officials maneuvered to outlaw it from operating in the state. Within a few days, he and leaders of like minds formed another organization, the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. From then on, they launched what amounted to a non-violent war to end all forms of racial injustice and inequality.

All of this put him on a collision course with the Jim Crow system and its violent white supremacists bent on maintaining it at any cost. But as he often said, he was a hard man for a hard town.

Through the rose-colored haze of time and history, the Rev. Shuttlesworth’s acts of defiance are heroic because today we see the positive fruits of his arduous labor. But 50 years ago, almost everyone in Birmingham thought he was simply crazy. His rivals, his haters and local media painted him as a publicity hound who sought a suicidal glory for himself by antagonizing the likes of Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor and the racist system that kept him in power to keep people like Shuttlesworth in his “place.”

We know the story now and the human race has decided that Shuttlesworth – along with Rev. Ralph Abernathy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the “Big Three” of the Civil Rights Movement – came out on the winning side of history.

It took prayer, positive action, perseverance and total commitment to a cause that they knew they might not live to see come to fruition. In fact, Dr. King did not, while Shuttlesworth, like the Apostle John, lived to a good old age.

Today, we have choices to make too about our future, the course of our state and nation, given the social injustices and unfairness of our day.

What doesn’t get played up as much in the narratives about Rev. Shuttlesworth and those from the Movement days is the strategic planning that went into their efforts. My personal goals include studying how Rev. Shuttlesworth and his contemporaries did what they did.

And this brings me – in a very roundabout way – to the weekend’s other event.

Vision for the Future

On tomorrow, the City of Birmingham will take the first steps to begin a comprehensive visioning plan for our city’s future. It will be the first time since 1961 that citizens will have the opportunity to begin to imagine what we want the Birmingham of the Future to be.

The city has hired a team of architect and planners to kick off a 16-month community planning process to produce a framework to guide Birmingham’s physical development for the next 20 years. For this process to work, it is crucial for citizens to add their ideas to a common vision for neighborhoods, jobs and economic development, parks and environment, transportation, public services and infrastructure.

In other words, we have an opportunity to look at the conditions around us, and make some decisions. Now, we can do one of two things. We can sit around and complain about the things that are wrong and unjust in our city, nation and world. Or, like Rev. Shuttlesworth, we can do some strategic planning and take actions that ensure the changes we want to see in Birmingham.

The row we have to hoe in this is not nearly as back-breaking as it could have been, thanks to Rev. Shuttlesworth and the men, women and children he led. They did the hardest, dirtiest work by breaking the back of racial injustice. It’s time we now do our part to move our city toward its destiny. And as history has shown us, as goes Birmingham, so goes the world.

The decisions and choices are now ours.


Commemoration Events for Rev. Shuttlesworth

Saturday, October 22, 2011

10:00am-10:45am – Public March from Historic Bethel to Bethel  Baptist Church

11:00am-1:30pm – Public Celebration of Life Service at Bethel Baptist Church

1:30pm-4:00pm – Public Visitation at Bethel Baptist Church

Sunday, October 23, 2011

10:00am-6:00pm – Public Visitation at Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI)

3:00pm -5:00pm – Historians’  Tribute at The Birmingham Museum of Art with Pulitzer Prize winner Diane McWhorter, Andrew Manis Judge UW Clemon, Bob Corley,  Eileen Walbert , Bishop Calvin Woods, Odessa Woolfolk  and others. See more details on Calendar Page.

Monday, October 24, 2011

8:00am – Doors Open to the Public at Faith Chapel Christian Center (FCCC)

8:00am-9:00am – Public Viewing

9:00am        **All Attendees should be seated**

9:00am-10:00am – Processional

10:00am-2:30pm – Homegoing Service

4:00pm-5:00pm – Private Interment at Oak Hill Cemetery

Citywide Visioning Forum

October 22, 2011, at the Birmingham Cross Plex (formerly Fair Park) from 9:00 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Continental breakfast and lunch will be provided.) 

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