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A Fire You Can't Put Out: The Civil Rights Life of Birmingham's Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth (Religion & American Culture)

4.8 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0817311568
ISBN-10: 0817311564
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. are the most well known figures of the civil rights movement that emerged in Birmingham, Alabama, in the 1950s, but in Andrew M. Manis's well-documented book, the contributions of the fiery Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, founder of the Alabama Movement for Human Rights, finally come to light. Manis paints a portrait of a God-fearing (but otherwise fearless) preacher cut in the mold of rebel slave leader Nat Turner, whose lawsuits, sit-ins of train and bus stations, and defiant pulpit orations helped tear down segregation in the South. But the reverend always had a firm sense of community: "Shuttlesworth conducted his civil rights activities with his hands still tightly grasping the pastoral reins of his local church," Manis writes. "His concern for social justice was central to his 'care of souls' and prophetic proclamation." Manis also shows the reader the professional and personal costs of Shuttlesworth's activities, from the 1956 bombing of his home to the constant tension with more conservative religious leaders in a community that considered his activism dangerous. In the end, however, Shuttlesworth's deeds earned him the praise of Birmingham's citizens, the beneficiaries of his courageous campaigns for equality. A Fire You Can't Put Out is a blazing blueprint pointing the way for future generations of activists to continue the struggle. --Eugene Holley Jr. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

In this intriguing work, the first full-scale biography of Birmingham's Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth ("perhaps the most unsung of the many heroes of the American civil rights movement"), religious historian Manis compellingly depicts a dual, combustible life. While providing insights into Shuttleworth's pastoral work and family life, he also offers a lengthy analysis of his subject's civil rights activities. He contends that Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference went to Birmingham on Shuttlesworth's direct invitation and that they owed their success there largely to Shuttlesworth's having organized a large and loyal cadre of demonstrators over seven years. It was Shuttlesworth's tenacity and courage, Manis suggests, that toppled Birmingham's virulent racism. Based largely on interviews with Shuttlesworth, this well-written and -researched book offers valuable new information and insights into a crucial era of Southern and African American history.AEdward G. McCormack, Univ. of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Lib., Long Beach
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Religion & American Culture
  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: University Alabama Press (October 29, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0817311564
  • ISBN-13: 978-0817311568
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #757,347 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The story of Fred Shuttlesworth is a powerful, dramatic story that everyone interested in the black freedom movement should read. Manis' compelling portrayal captures the spirit and spirituality of a great unsung hero. The book has been honored by the Lillian Smith Book Award, the South's oldest literary prize, and deserves a wide reading.
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By A Customer on September 15, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is a real page turner of a biography--a book you can't put down. The contest between Fred Shuttlesworth and "Bull" Connor is classic, full of violence and poignancy. Manis has done the nation a service by putting his magnifying glass on Fred Shuttlesworth's heroics, and rightly explained them from the context of black religion. This book should be made into a movie!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Most people remember the pictures of police dogs attacking black children. Many people remember that three young girls were killed in a church bombing. People have heard about the "Letter from Birmingham Jail" and may have even read parts of it. Lawyers know that the modern law of libel is built on the Supreme Court decision New York Times v. Sullivan. But very few people understand that all of these events are closely connected. Even fewer understand that the hard, heroic work of one man made all of these historical moments happen. That man is Fred Shuttlesworth, and this biography ties all those hazy images together.

These days, what is now known as the civil rights movement is all too often reduced to a few hazy images--Martin Luther King giving his "I have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial; Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus; non-violent marches; sit ins at lunch counters; and perhaps a few images of violence. What is too often overlooked is that thousands of people worked day in and day out, for years on end, at great risk to their very lives, to make all of this happen. The civil rights movement did not just arise spontaneously, and victory was not won after a few marches and sit-ins. Victory took careful strategizing, coordination, and most importantly, people willing to do the hard work of recruiting, training, and motivating hundreds of thousands of people to participate.

Fred Shuttlesworth did all of that. Fred Shuttlesworth was born into a poor family, in the highly segregated south. But once the Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education, his long simmering fight against day-to-day racism ignited into "the fire you can't put out." Early on, his parsonage was destroyed by a bomb--while he and his family were home in bed.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It was great to be reading this book during the fight over the Confederate flag in South Carolina. We will see more Confederate icons tumble, and a continuation of the "Black lives matter" movement against cop brutality, which has already become intertwined with the movement for $15 an hour and a union.

I had read Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution, an excellent book written a few years after this was published which describes "the Battle of Birmingham" perhaps better than this one does. But I wanted to learn more about Fred Shuttlesworth, and while this book is not as exciting as Diane McWhorter's book, it's well written and has a lot of interesting material about Birmingham, the civil rights movement, the Black church, as well as about Shuttlesworth.
Shuttlesworth differed from Martin Luther King in many ways, but most of them flowed from his working class background. He was better able to communicate with working class African Americans, and far less willing to compromise than King. Although Shuttlesworth was a central leader of SCLC, King frequently avoided consulting him when he should have.

While King was afraid to defend Carl and Anne Braden and their organization the Southern Conference Educational Fund against the charges of it being a "Communist-front" organization, Shuttlesworth served as president of the organization.

There have been many good books published on the civil rights/Black power movements and some of its heroes. Among my favorite biographies are
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Format: Paperback
A Fire You Can't Put Out is a tale of Fred Shuttleworth's tremendous courage against racism! Because Fred Shuttleworth was so intimately involved with much of the nonviolent civil rights movement, and because A Fire You Can't Put Out is so very well written, it is a book that will rivet the the reader's attention, and thus the book will be read in as short a time as is possible. Fred Shuttleworth was a very driven and an authoritarian man. He completely believed that his civil rights actions, his ministerial actions, and his actions toward his wife and family were driven strictly by God's will. Thus he appeared to others as a very powerful and dominating person. Because I already have a great deal of knowledge about Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, the most revealing and enlightening section of this book for me was when the book thoroughly described the relationship and actions of both Fred Shuttleworth and Martin Luther King during the Birmingham civil rights campaign. Fred Shuttlesworth was more firmly committed to the initial goals of the Birmingham civil rights campaign, which he had so carefully crafted, than was Martin Luther King, the public leader of the campaign. Therefore, when Fred Shuttlesworth was injured and then hospitalized by a firehose that had been aimed right at him, and thus taken out of the campaign negotiations with segragationist white businessmen, Martin Luther King appears to betray the initial far-reaching goals of the Birmingham civil rights campaign, as King negotiates a campaign-ending agreement that was much more concilliatory, much less thorough, and much less militant than the initial far-reaching goals of the Birmingam campaign. In common jargon, King appears to "sell out" by being most concerned about his esteemed public image.Read more ›
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