The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and the Civil Rights Movement by Riley Ries

Praying Ministers

Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and Praying Ministers – Kelly Ingram Park

The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was the most prominent organization in the Birmingham, Alabama civil rights movement. Lead by Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, members of the congregation assisted the Freedom Riders numerous times, whether hosting them for dinner, or providing lodging for the night, or braving the potentially deadly force of a white pro-segregation mob to save Freedom Riders in Anniston after the fire-bombing of the first bus. The Church also played a major role in the protests on the streets of Birmingham and the boycott of its bus system.  Kelly Ingram Park is across the street from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. In the first week of May 1963, hundreds of protestors, many of whom were children and high school students, gathered in the streets surrounding the park and advocated for the desegregation of their city. On the first day of their protests hundreds were arrested. On the second day Birmingham police officers and firefighters, under orders from the oppressive Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor, assaulted protestors with fire hoses, brutally beat them with batons, and unleashed vicious dogs upon themScreen Shot 2016-04-29 at 9.46.30 PM (as depicted in the statue to the left). However, true to their Gandhian philosophy of non-violence, these protestors never fought back against their attackers, whether they were police officers, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, or regular white citizens walking along the streets of the city. Even following the bombing of the Church on September 15, 1963, in which four young girls were killed by members of the Klan, the Church and its congregation preached only love and never violence, and continued to follow the lead of Reverend Shuttlesworth and Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church played a major role in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, and Fred Shuttlesworth and his congregation arguably had a much greater effect on the desegregation of Birmingham than did Dr. King, SNCC, CORE, or any other individual or group. Had it not been for the heroic actions taken by the members of this congregation, and the bravery and tolerance they exuded in the face of immeasurable pain an suffering, never once faltering from their Gandhian philosophy of non-violence, the desegregation movement in Birmingham and the United States at large would not have proceeded nearly as successfully as it did.


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