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Civil Rights Icon Fred L. Shuttlesworth Honored with Mural at Birmingham Airport 

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Family of The Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth traveled from Cincinnati to be present with friends and supporters for the unveiling of "Fred S." mural in the Birmingham Shuttlesworth International Airport. (Marika N. Johnson, For The Birmingham Times)

By Barnett Wright | The Birmingham Times

Millions of visitors to Birmingham can now be welcomed at the International Airport in the city by one of its most renowned Civil Rights icons.

On Thursday May 23, officials with the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport unveiled a new mural honoring The Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth in Concourse B. The airport was renamed in his honor in 2008.

Dozens of area leaders, activists and residents gathered for the unveiling which was attended by members of the Shuttlesworth family, including daughters, Dr. Ruby Shuttlesworth Bester and Patricia Shuttlesworth Massengill.

“[This mural] is absolutely beautiful. I am so pleased with everything that you’ve done to honor my father,” Massengill told attendees at the event. “It looks just like him — I always told him, ‘Dad, you need to smile’ and he would say, ‘I’m concentrating on the Lord’s work and what I can do for mankind.’”

Ruby Shuttlesworth Bester, daughter of the Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth, addresses crowd after the mural unveiling. (Marika N. Johnson, For The Birmingham Times)

Nearly 13 feet high and 66 feet wide, the mural created by artist Rico Gatson, titled “Fred S,” depicts Shuttlesworth surrounded by an array of colors. It was initially created for the Birmingham Museum of Art’s Wall to Wall series before finding its permanent home at BHM.

“I am eternally grateful and honored to bring this iteration of the mural portrait of the great Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth to the airport and to the city of Birmingham,” said Gatson.

The mural is a result of a community project from 2023 Leadership Birmingham spearheaded by Ashby Pate, secretary of the Birmingham Airport Authority Board.

“The mural’s placement in the terminal ensures that more than three million visitors to the airport each year will be able to draw inspiration from this incredible artistic interpretation of his legacy,” said Pate, a member of the Leadership Birmingham class that chose this collaboration as their community project. “ … Rev. Shuttlesworth changed Birmingham forever — and when he did, he changed the world.”

Social Justice Activist and Shuttlesworth documentarian, T. Marie King. (Marika N. Johnson, For The Birmingham Times)

Social justice activist T. Marie King, who delivered remarks during the unveiling and co-produced a documentary on Shuttlesworth said “… His legacy is a testament to the power of activism and the enduring fight for equality, equity and justice.”

Shuttlesworth, who died in 2011, devoted himself to challenging segregation, establishing the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, as well as joined Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

“Knowing about Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth helps illuminate the history of the Civil Rights Movement, showcases the importance of courage and resilience in the face of oppression, and underscores the collective efforts required to drive social change,” King said. “… For our city, it’s important to remember the work that was done here and to recognize that the work continues.”

She added, “The brilliant James Baldwin said, “Our crown has already been bought and paid for. All we have to do is wear it. I hope that through this remarkable work that will live in this terminal, reminds each of us to wear our crowns as Shuttlesworth did.”

Daughters of The Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth, from left, Ruby Shuttlesworth Bester and Patricia Shuttlesworth Massengill with artist Rico Gaston (Marika N. Johnson, For The Birmingham Times)

In addition to the Shuttlesworth family, those in attendance included former Mayor Richard Arrington; The Rev. Thomas Wilder, Senior Pastor, Bethel Baptist Church, Shuttlesworth’s former church; Bishop Calvin Woods, former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Alabama poet laureate Ashley Jones; Birmingham City Councilor Crystal Smitherman, DeJuana Thompson, CEO, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute; former gov. Don Siegelman; activist Helen Rivas; and many others.

Updated at 10:01 a.m. on 5/28/2024 to correct Shuttlesworth family in attendance and a correct a caption.

From left: Former Alabama governor Don Siegelman; Social Justice Activist and Shuttlesworth documentarian, T. Marie King and First African American Mayor of Birmingham, Richard Arrington. (Marika N. Johnson, For The Birmingham Times)