By Hannah Lutz, Staff Writer
Sephira Bailey Shuttlesworth integrated the theme of black leaders in American culture as the keynote speaker for the 5th Annual Black History Month Program, held Feb. 13 in the Carl Grant Events Center.
Shuttlesworth, wife of the late Fred Shuttlesworth and a Union alumna, spoke about the life of her husband, who was one of the three most prominent activists in the Civil Rights Movement along with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy.
Sephira Shuttlesworth began telling the story of the life of Fred Shuttlesworth by recounting his words: “We must tell the story — the whole story — to future generations. As long as there is struggle between good and evil, our work is never done.”
As a teenager, Fred Shuttlesworth began to question why blacks did not have the same rights and freedoms as whites.
“He knew more about what he could not be than what he could be,” Sephira Shuttlesworth said.
He petitioned the city of Birmingham to hire black officers, and Eugene Conner, a white police officer, challenged him openly.
Shuttlesworth was arrested more than 35 times and was blasted by a fire hose; his church was bombed three times.
Dr. David S. Dockery, university president, said, “Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy were the giants in the ‘50s and ‘60s. We pray God is raising up a new generation of giants to carry on their work.”
On Christmas Day 1956, Fred Shuttlesworth announced he with other blacks would challenge segregation laws by riding buses, which were meant for whites only. That night 16 sticks of dynamite exploded in his home. However, he did not let this threat stop him from becoming involved in the Civil Rights Movement.
“Fred Shuttlesworth found a way to tie (together) the Gospel and his vision to tear down racial barriers,” Dockery said. “He was concerned about reconciliation with God and with others.” Sephira Shuttlesworth explained that by having segregation laws, America was showing its ugly face that the nation’s conscience had to deal with.
Sephira Shuttlesworth also made history when she and her sister integrated Pope Elementary School in Jackson, which was an all-white school in 1965.
She received a letter stating that blacks had the right to choose where they wanted to attend school.
“My forward-thinking mother read and explained the letter to us and gave us the privilege of deciding where we wanted to attend school,” Sephira Shuttlesworth said.
“The white school was nice on the outside and we thought it would be nice on the inside, too.”
Having not foreseen the evil awaiting her and her sister the first year at Pope Elementary in Jackson, the two had no friends.
Over the years they made their mark at the school. In 1969, forced integration took place, and soon she and her siblings became prominent leaders in their school.
Sephira Shuttlesworth continued her education at Union.
“I came from a family of believers, and it was at Union I learned the true meaning of brotherly love,” Sephira Shuttlesworth said.
Sophomore family studies major Macy Alligood said Sephira Shuttlesworth inspires her to continue to not let things stop her and that no matter what happens, we are all God’s children.
“It gives me determination to keep going,” Alligood said. “We should have that determination and never let something like a racial line stop you in life.”
Sephira Shuttlesworth ended her speech by asking, “How will you make history?”