Rev. Fred Shuttleworth's tenure as pastor of Bethel Baptist Church (1953-1961) was marked by demonstrations, bombings and passionate sermons critical of segregation laws. His activism earned him a house bombing, frequent beatings, arrests, and threats to his family. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called Shuttleworth "one of the nation's most courageous freedom fighters."Shuttleworth organized lunch counter sit-ins and encouraged Blacks to apply for civil service jobs. The church was built in 1926 was bombed three times: Dec. 25,1956: June 29, 1958: and Dec.14, 1962. When a dynamite blast blew the roof off his parsonage, he emerged and told a policeman."Tell your Klan brothers that if God could save me through this, they'll have to come up with something better, So the fight's on." Although he left Birmingham in 1961 to pastor a church in Cincinnati he returned often to help organize civil rights demonstration, most notable in 1963.
In May of 1963, Shuttlesworth invited King and others to lead adults and children on nonviolent marches from Kelly Ingram Park to city hall. They wanted city leaders to integrate water fountains and restrooms. The force of high-pressure fire hoses pointed at marchers under orders of Police Commander Eugene (Bull) Conner injured,Shuttlesworth and others. King was arrested and wrote his famous "Letter from the Birmingham Jail" essay. Nationalmedia coverage and the bombing deaths of four Sunday School girls in September at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church horrifiedthe nation. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 theFollowing year. The Church, parsonage and guardhouse across the street were jointly granted National Historic Landmark status in 2005. The Bethel congregation completed a new sanctuary a block away in 2006. The historic complex was nominated as a UNESCO World heritage Site in 2007. Following his retirement from the ministry in 2008, Rev. Shuttlesworth returned to Birmingham.In his honor, the local airport was renamed the Birmingham.Shuttlesworth International airport.