Wife of prominent Civil Rights activist discusses integration, life experiences

Sephira Bailey Shuttlesworth, keynote speaker and Civil Rights activist, addresses Union students and faculty about the Civil Rights Movement. | Photo by Zac Calvert

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?”

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.