5. February 2013 10:36
by Tammi Sharpe
1 Comments

"Hour of Freedom"

5. February 2013 10:36 by Tammi Sharpe | 1 Comments

 Click here to see the entire speech in Reverend Shuttlesworth's handwriting FS_Freedom scan.pdf (1.10 mb)

In 1958 at the 131st Emancipation Celebration in Canada, Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth gave a speech arguing that the “hour of freedom” had now arrived for African-Americans.  Fifty years later, his words transport us back in time to an era, nearly one hundred years after slavery had ended, but for African-Americans an era that continued to be defined by discrimination and fear.  You can hear his anguish at being denied freedom and the fervor with which he desired it. 

Reverend Shuttlesworth’s speech reflects the time in which he gave it.  He appealed to the audience’s intellect and morality arguing that freedom has a price but emphasizing the importance of a non-violent struggle.  As one denied basic freedoms he compared the ideologies of Communism and Democracy arguing that Democracy’s survival depended on guarantees of freedom for all citizens.  He pointed out the irony of man’s intellectual capacities to advance technologically while, remaining unable to overcome prejudices.  Unlike other speeches of Reverend Shuttlesworth this speech could not be delivered today, but as we celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, his words remind us of the value of freedom and the long struggle to obtain it in the United States.    

[…]

[R]eaffirming once again my conviction that this is the Hour of freedom, and that whenever men and women of goodwill meet upon whatever occasion they meet, the chief ingredient of life to them and for them is freedom, justice, equality, humanitarianism and fair play. 

The Hour of freedom for all mankind is upon us, however much some men may misread history, misjudge the present and misinterpret the future.  All around the world, from the Artic regions of the North to the Tropics of the south, from the bushes and backwoods of Africa to the Isles of the Seas, men seem to have sensed the importance and possibilities of this hour, and their feet march with rhythmic tramp as they move to the cherished goal of freedom.  Nothing can stop this march to freedom.  It appears that the God of this universe has intervened in men’s affairs to teach them that there is but one race – the human race; and that of one blood.  He hath made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth.  I call it a divine struggle for the…[exaltation] of the human race. 

Is it not strange then that after centuries of wars, of studies, and of knowledge, that the greatest bar to human progress and happiness is the color bar?  How ridiculous it is that men have learned from science how to send men over 100 miles up to orbit at nearly 18,000 miles per hour, but have not heard from the Bible to let men walk 10 blocks on earth at less than one mile per hour, without finding discrimination, segregation and in-humanitarianism?

We meet today as free men, as citizens of the two greatest democratic countries on earth.  Yet we meet to gain unity in our struggle for freedom.  We read in your brochure that a valiant Queen whipped out slavery with a stroke of a pen 132 years ago, but true freedom for all subjects of the Commonwealth without discrimination is not a reality today.  America, with its beautiful and sacred Constitution is finding it difficult at this moment to guarantee to all its citizens the same rights and privileges.  Democracy is on trial around the world, and you and I today are on the witness stand, testifying on its behalf.  Communism seeks to prove by the very faults and inequalities of our system that democracy will not work.  

This is a battle for men’s minds.  Both Russia and the Democratic countries can shoot rockets over the seas with accuracy; can send men into outer space and bring them back again; can photograph the moon and shoot at the sun.  The war is over moral and ethical practices now more than scientific or technological advances.  Which system can guarantee that all men must act like brothers, and none can be masters?  Which can ensure that a man’s color or origin of birth will not be a continuing obstacle throughout his life?  And which can guarantee the most benefits with the less friction?  The greatest good for the greatest number?

We believe in Democracy and that Democracy can best supply the answers for a confused mankind.  This is why we must contend for freedom now.  Time is short!  This is a glorious hour for it is a dangerous and challenging hour in man’s history.  The Negro’s great contribution to Society will be to prove in the 20th century that Love is the greatest force in the universe, that freedom is worth fighting for – even if some must die for it; and that there are those today who believe that spiritual weapons of faith, hope, and love with perseverance, will overcome the evil which has lasted for generations. 

I stand before you today as an American, one proud of my country despite its faults.  I come from one of the darkest spots on the North American continent – Birmingham, Alabama.  This is the spot where over 40 bombings have occurred in 10 years, where mobs in the past have roamed with impunity, where the police in the past have been noted for brutality, where the Police Commissioner has been quoted as saying “Damn the laws, down here we make our own laws.” 

In B’ham I have been in several mobs, and have been nearly killed three times at the hands of bombers or mobsters.  Here is a place where it seems that justice has declared a holiday; and today I am involved in more than 30 cases either civil or criminal ranging from the lowest inferior courts to the U.S. Supreme Court.   

With three other Negro Ministers, I have been sued for over 3 million dollars, and have lost a car and other valuables.  All of the five other members of my family and I have developed tensions and nevous conditions as a result of the day and night strains of 6 years fighting for freedom.  Like many others, we know what its like to await the sickening blast of bombs in the night, the howl of the mobs, on the commands of some officers who forget that they are servants and not masters. 

Out of it all we have learned that suffering for a just cause brings redemption, and that love with non-violent persistence will make even your enemy respect you. 

And so the Southern Negros have learned the key to racial progress. We have decided that now is the time; and that if now is not the time, there’ll never be another time like now.  We want freedom now, not tomorrow.  We have carried on in such manner that Federal Marshalls became the answer for southern mobsters, and the Justice Department became a prosecutor of law agencies which refused to do their duty.  

In our quest for freedom now, we have decided to fill the jails if necessary, and to transform them from dungeons to meeting places for God’s freedom loving children.  This is why I have been in jail over 20 times, and this is why Martin Luther King and Ralph Abernathy are in jail in Albany, GA today.  We have learned that freedom is so needful.  Now that we preachers are willing to preach on Sunday, walk picket lines on Monday, and go to jail on Tuesday. 

This is [our] prayer in its fullest sense, and this is prayerful action.  Thus the sit-ins and the Freedom Rides were not wild-eyed schemes for publicity.  Neither were they dupes or persons misled by other men.  They were men, like prophets of old, or the Apostles of the early Christian days, read to say to the Nero’s and the Ceasar’s, “We ought to obey God rather than man.”  They were, and they are, men and women young and old- who are willing to lay their brain and bodies before the mobs or the police, as living sacrifices……

Speech delivered by Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth, Windsor, Canada, 1958

 

 

15. January 2013 06:50
by Tammi Sharpe
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"America's Challenge: Fulfilling the Dream"

15. January 2013 06:50 by Tammi Sharpe | 0 Comments

In June 1968, close to five years after Dr. Martin Luther King gave his speech, “I have a dream” in Washington, D.C., Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth gave a speech in Bay City, Michigan, titled “America’s Challenge:  Fulfilling the Dream.”   A copy of this speech is among the various items donated by Reverend Shuttlesworth to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.  As the leader of the civil rights movement in Birmingham, Reverend Shuttlesworth worked closely with Dr. King from 1955 till his death in 1968.   Reverend Shuttlesworth collaborated with Dr. King in an infinite number of ways, key amongst are the Montgomery bus boycott, the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the March on Washington, and protests in Birmingham including the one that resulted in Dr. King’s arrest in 1963 during which Dr. King wrote the famed “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”  From this close collaboration, Reverend Shuttlesworth gained some keen insights  and was intimately familiar with Dr. King’s thinking.  

Reverend Shuttlesworth’s speech, “America’s Challenge: Fulfilling the Dream,” provides not only a reflection on the meaning of Dr. King’s word but also an assessment of what followed in the five years after the speech.  In 1968 Reverend Shuttlesworth did not believe that the “dream” had been realized.  But at the same time he appreciated that he was speaking at a time of great change and progress.  In this speech, Reverend Shuttlesworth comments on the history of the civil rights movement highlighting a couple of major achievements, namely the passage of the Civil Rights Act and re-enfranchisement of African Americans.  He also discusses the essence of Dr. King’s “dream” as one of a tolerant society and economic and social justice. 

With the upcoming 50th Anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and in remembrance of Dr. King this January, Reverend Shuttlesworth’s words provide a useful guide to reflect on progress in realizing this “dream” in the last 45 years.   In some aspects, it is a speech that could be read today. 

“America’s Challenge:  Fulfilling the Dream”

There can no longer be any blinking of the fact that we are in the midst of a social and moral revolution in this land.

[….]

For unnumbered years America has allowed injustice to reign unchecked throughout the fabric of its whole life.  In the South there were open and flagrant violations against Blacks, poor Whites, and other minorities.  In the North there were the insidious, and many times, invisible workings of discrimination which were harder to see, but had the same chilling effect of killing hopes, shattering dreams, and stifling initiative.

[.…]

Then in 1955, under the leadership of a young prophet named Martin Luther King, Jr., Negroes moved to challenge the conscience of this nation by non-violent demonstrations.  It is now history – the battles of Montgomery, Alabama, Albany, Georgia, Birmingham, Alabama, which gave us the Civil Rights Bill, and Selma, Alabama, which gave Negroes the right to vote.  There was the historic 1963 March on Washington, joined in by white and black, rich and poor, high and low, in which this modern Moses spoke of his Dream for America.  His dream was not blacks overcoming whites or even the poor overcoming the rich; rather blacks and whites working together, those in power and with affluence helping to educate and lift the standards of the poor; and that somehow our land would seek to turn its face and energies from war and build here on these shores a heaven, a Beloved city, a brother hood-where man would become his brother’s keeper instead of his brother’s killer.

The Dreamer is dead but he lives in his dreams because they are really the dreams of America.  They are the dreams of hope, of fulfillment, of creativity, of richness of character and life, of peaceful protest against any and all injustices, of having enough and a little to spare, of every man looking out for his brother and standing with his brother, of every man looking into his own heart and overcoming by the disposition of love the violence therein.  This should be your dream; this is America’s Challenge. 

Dr. King and his workers dreamed of a society that could overcome its own violent and racist tendencies.  For it is a terrible violence that keeps men from becoming their best selves by whatever means it is accomplished.  It is violence that men may be born in a society, grow up within it and learn that there is really no place in society for them.  It is violence that some… in our society can brag of wall-to-wall carpets while so many complain of wall-to-wall roaches and rats.  It is violence that the education system of this land has left so many unprepared for a day of technology and automation.  

[….]

Speech Delivered by Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth, Bay City, Michigan, Saturday, June 1, 1968

20. December 2012 10:14
by Tammi Sharpe
1 Comments

Wait!

20. December 2012 10:14 by Tammi Sharpe | 1 Comments

‘Wait!’  With this one word, in his famed “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in March 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King captures so much of the historical struggle for racial equality in the United States (US).  As far back as the founding of the US, the framers of the Constitution indirectly made a request to slaves to “wait.”  By incorporating compromises into the Constitution, the framers allowed for the continued practice of slavery notwithstanding the assertion in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.”  The contradiction of the situation was not lost on the founders.   Thomas Jefferson, a framer and the author of the Declaration of Independence, said:  “Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free.”  He also was not naïve on the gravity of this human right violation:  "The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other.”  His words make me query, if not then and not him, when and whom did he think would resolutely tackle slavery?    

It was not the next generation.  It took a few generations and a war for decisive action to be taken.  President Lincoln, by issuing in 1863 the Emancipation Proclamation, decided de-jure for the nation that securing freedom for some four million people, about 13 per-cent of the population, was vital to the future of this nation.   The adoption of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution by the U.S. Congress further endorsed this view, substantively changing the legal framework of this nation.  Abolitionists, who assiduously labored to rectify the human rights violation that was slavery, saw this as a great leap forward. 

Yet, genuine freedom and full citizenship were still not realized.  Instead, segregation, denial of voting rights, lack of access to justice, and forced labor supplanted slavery.  A freed black was not even physically secure: lynching occurred with impunity and men were arbitrarily arrested.    In response, civil rights advocates replaced the abolitionists in the courts, in the media, in the Federal and State Legislatures, and in the street lobbying for change.  Some successes were realized but not until the mid-1960s were practical measures put in place to protect the human rights articulated in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments for African Americans.   Dr. King’s “wait” captures the justified frustration and outrage of African Americans being asked for centuries to wait for some of the most basic human rights and dignity as a human being.

“Wait” also illustrates the complexity of upholding human rights.  Dr. King wrote the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” as political and legal structures of segregation were gradually being eradicated but when their termination was far from assured.  He addressed his letter to the white clergy of Birmingham.  This clergy was sympathetic to the cause but desired for protests to be halted to allow for a new local government to be instated.  This can be viewed as a judicious request from their perspective.  New government officials and the structure within which they sat represented  a sort of coup d’état:  a petition calling for a referendum on the type of local government structure had been successfully filed; the referendum had passed and new government officials, who were not rigid segregationist, had been elected.  The clergy wrote to Dr. King with the belief that this new power structure opened up new political and legal opportunities to overturn segregation.  This change of government structure was symbolic of considerable social upheaval within the white community when it came to perceptions of the legitimacy of segregation. 

“Wait,” while inadvertently, also captures the issue of trust and miscommunication between the writer and the receiver and between the larger communities of which they were members.  As indicated by the long history of the struggle for racial equality, asking to further “wait” could be interpreted by those oppressed as insensitivity to the scale of their suffering for centuries.  At the same time, the inability of the nation to rectify the paradox between the founding equality principles of this country and the overt practice of inequality throughout these centuries signifies the importance of the general public’s notions of legitimate laws and practices as well as the enormity of changing perceptions of what is legitimate.  This appears to have been the reality with which the clergy was grappling.  Reportedly, they were too ill at ease over the letter to have responded. 

As history shows, protests in downtown Birmingham in the Spring of 1963 were not halted.  While not immediately, they were successful in overturning segregation.  What we cannot resolutely know is whether passivism could have also worked.