L - r: Charles Ogletree (Harvard Law School); Norman Hill, esteemed member and organizer for the Congress of Racial Equality and the Civil Rights Movement; Diane McWhorter, renowned historian and writer; William [Bill] Lucy, esteemed Labor and Civil Rights Movement leader; and the Reverend Mrs. Sephira Suttlesworth, public speaker and widow of the late Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth
Charles Ogletree: The resistance, the hatred, was just palpable, and it wasn't just a southern problem, it was throughout the country. These individuals stood strong and did a lot to make our community better.
One of the little girls growing up in Alabama at the time was Diane McWhorter, who wrote an amazing book called 'Carry Me Home', about the climactic battle of the civil rights revolution in Birmingham. Her book has won a number of literary awards - including the Pulitzer prize, and it tells the story of Reverend Shuttlesworth and others' battle for justice, equality and civil rights.
Diane McWhorter: James Farmer, who was the head of the Congress for Racial Equality [CORE], was flying into Montgomery from Washington to help oversee the freedom rides, and there's an amazing story that I love to tell. Here's my account that comes from Farmer's frequent retelling of it:
"Can you get me to that church, Rev?", Farmer asked.
"Wrong question; the only question is how do I get you there". Shuttlesworth replied.
Trying to get trough the mob, Shuttlesworth got out of the cab. Coke bottles broke against windows as he paused to register a strange smell - the first whiff of pure gas. Then he got Farmer out of the car. Hiding in Shuttlesworth's shadow, Farmer followed. Shuttlesworth made his way through the crowd to the doors of the church without so much as a thread on his jacket disturbed.
Years after the event, people would ask how he made it through. He'd say: 'I'm only a little fellow, but so was Jesus Christ'.
Bill Lucy: I moved to Washington DC in 1966. I was green as a pool table and twice as square. [Three] individuals had a political influence on my life and how I perceived the role of institutions. One was a writer and social activist, a fellow by the name of Michael Harrington, who wrote a tremendous analysis on the conditions of many people in this land - on the lack of education, under education, and powerlessness.
This work became the underpinning of Lyndon Johnson as he approached the so-called 'great society' period. Reading Mike's work raised the question for me: "well, can't you do something more useful?"
The other people were Dr. King [and his campaign for fairness and justice] and reverend Shuttlesworth.
We tend to read someone else's history and judge the value of others' contributions. We should always remember that the labor, religious, civil rights coalitions have been connected for a long time, and we should always be mindful of the fact that we are working people. Dr. King's perspective was that there is something fundamentally wrong when you work every day and you still cannot raise yourself out of poverty and beyond your condition.
This was the tread that ran through his view of the two great movements that ought to be arm in arm.
Dr. King and reverend Shuttlesworth also saw the plight of the poor in a domestic as well as a global context, and they really grew a movement to force government to play its proper role in alleviating the problems that government itself caused. the poor people's campaign drew people from all over the United States to Washington DC to put a face on poverty - this campaign was an idea that ultimately succeeded because of people's determination to get themselves out of their position of powerlessness and make themselves seen by the powers that be. The Civil Rights Movement is defined as the 'Civil Rights Movement', but it was a workers' rights movement. Dr. King's last work was with the sanitation workers in Tennessee. Those 1300 men had decided for themselves that they would no longer be treated as children - that's probably one of the strongest messages.
They got tired of the law of the South that said a Black man could go from being 'boy' to 'uncle to 'grandpa' without ever being a man.
Norman Hill: Salvation for a race, nation, or class must come from within. Freedom is never granted, it is won. Justice is never given, it is exacted. Freedom and justice must be struggled for by the oppressed of all lands and races, and the struggle must be continuous, for freedom is never a final factor, but a continually evolving process to higher and higher levels of human, social, economic and political relationships'.
Those words articulate the philosophy of change of A. Phillip Randolph.
We believe that people needed to at least meet the minimum standard for living to effectively pursue racial equality at home. And for A. Phillip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, the coalition was a partnership between organized labor and the Civil Rights Movement.
Randolph said it best: 'In concert with our fellow workers, Black people can take decisive control of their destiny. With the unions they can approach their employers like equals, not as trembling slaves. Indeed a [fair] contract is [in its highest form] another emancipation proclamation.
Reverend Mrs. Shuttlesworth: I miss my husband dearly, but the good he left behind supersedes that.
As I strolled through the streets of Cambridge earlier today, I was confronted with the reality that the influence of our nation's founders looms eternal - everywhere. I found myself yearning to know more about our collective story. I was reminded that the story was alive and well.
My late husband challenged us all in what would be his final interview. He said "you must tell the story, the whole story, and then light a fire under future generations, letting them know that there exists a struggle between good and evil - our work is never done".
He would endure beatings, bombings, arrests - persecution and countless threats against his life and the lives of his family. If he were here, he would tell you that knowing the outcome, he would do it all over again. His courage and fiery personality personality undergird his legacy. He demanded a better way of life for the poor and disenfranchised, whom he called 'the least, the lost, the left behind'.
I'll share with you my favorite story: the Christmas eve bombing of his home, 1956.
He would tell you that it was about 9:45pm - one of his deacons and [the deacon's] wife were visiting. He was lying on the bed, the deacon in a chair and they were deep in conversation - the wives were in a room away.
The bomb went off. He said he knew it was a bomb. He said he knew it was for him.
He said the klan intended to blow him into heaven. The springs on the bed - there was no piece as large as his fist left. He landed in a gaping hole of what used to be the floor. The wall was at a 45 degree angle at this time and he could see the sky. He says that on his mind was the 27th chapter of the Psalms - 'the Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?'
He would tell you that there was a rather large white police officer standing out front. He said that as he moved forward, the officer moved back. the officer said 'Mr. Shuttlesworth, I'll tell you what - if it was me, I would get out of town'.
And so he replied 'well, you're not me - and you go back and tell your klan brethren that if God can save me from this, I am here for the duration and the war has just begun'.
My only regret is that Fred is not with us tonight to receive this honor for his life's work. He told me many times that while the accolades of his fellow man were appreciated, the one that he was most concerned about was that great reward he longed most to receive on that grand morning when he would finally behold the face of his maker.
He wanted nothing more than to hear those eternal words: "well done, my good and faithful servant. Well done."