“Shuttlesworth,” Alabama Public Television’s forthcoming documentary about civil rights leader and minister Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, will get a premiere at Birmingham’s recently renovated historic Carver Theatre before it airs on television.
Alabama Public Television will host the screening at the Carver on Thursday, December 15. Attendance is free for the event, which includes a reception at 6:00 p.m. The film screening will start at 7:00 p.m., followed by a Q&A session with the documentary’s producers and more honored guests. “Shuttlesworth” airs on Alabama Public Television on Tuesday, December 10 at 8 p.m.
Fred Shuttlesworth co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and was an instrumental leader in the 1963 Birmingham Campaign. He also worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rev. Ralph David Abernathy during the civil rights movement. Shuttlesworth continued his work against racism and housing disparities in Cincinnati, Ohio, before returning to Birmingham after suffering a stroke in 2007. Shuttlesworth died in 2011 at the age of 89.
In a description on its website, Alabama Public Television says “Shuttlesworth” will chronicle the life of the late civil rights leader, starting with his childhood and following his work at Bethel Baptist Church, the development of the Birmingham Campaign, and “the reactionary violence unleashed by the white power structure of the city.”
“Through this lens, SHUTTLESWORTH examines the City of Birmingham, its unique history and culture, and how the city became the symbol for social justice and the American Civil Rights Movement.”
The hour-long documentary features conversations with members of Shuttlesworth’s family, including his daughters Ruby and Carolyn Shuttlesworth, as well as interviews with historians, politicians, and community leaders including Dr. Martha Bouyer, the executive director of the Historic Bethel Baptist Church Foundation, Bishop Calvin Woods; judge U.W. Clemon; Richard Arrington, the first Black mayor of the city of Birmingham, and Birmingham’s current mayor, Randall Woodfin.
The documentary comes during a year of events commemorating Fred Shuttlesworth’s 100th birthday. In March, the city of Birmingham issued a proclamation establishing March 18 as Fred Shuttleswoth Day. After the proclamation, APT and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute hosted a panel discussion about civil rights and social justice featuring a number of experts and historians, including Dr. Carolyn Shuttlesworth, Dr. Martha Boyer, and Dr. Andrew Manis. Community organizer and activist T. Marie King moderated the conversation.
In August, the Birmingham Museum of Art and artist Rico Gatson unveiled a mural inspired by Shuttlesworth as part of the second installation of its immersive “Wall to Wall” installation, a three-part series that invites artists to activate the museum’s lobby and café area with artwork inspired by the city of Birmingham. After a reception where Ruby and Carolyn Shuttlesworth painted the first strokes of color onto the mural, the BMA hosted a community conversation about art, history, and the life of the late civil rights leader featuring the Shuttlesworth daughters, Gatson, Bouyer, and New York Times journalist and arts critic Siddhartha Mitter.
This year, the Alabama Humanities Alliance dedicated one of its teaching development workshops to the legacy of Fred Shuttlesworth. Held at the historic Bethel Baptist Church in October and hosted in partnership with APT, “Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth: Actionist for Justice” examined Shuttleworth’s leadership techniques with lectures by Dr. Martha Bouyer and Lipscomb University professor Dr. David Holmes, an expert on Shuttlesworth and the mix of spiritual and secular strategies that shaped the Birmingham civil rights campaign.
“Shuttlesworth” has been in production for three years, and the team at APT spent the past year wrapping the documentary, including filming the ceremonies at the proclamation of Shuttlesworth Day and the Birmingham Museum of Art.
Director J. Whitson and producer T. Marie King described the creative process behind “Shuttlesworth” when they screened a section of the documentary at “Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth: Actionist for Justice.”
In 2007, Whitson shot an interview with Shuttlesworth as part of a documentary project about sculptor Tina Allen, the artist who created the bust of Frederick Douglass housed at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
Allen died in 2008 and footage from the project, including the interview with Shuttlesworth, sat unused. Whitson eventually decided to revive the interview and work on a full-length documentary about the late social justice activist.
“I grew up knowing Shuttlesworth existed, but he’s always been overshadowed by Martin Luther King,” said Whitson.
The mission of the documentary, said Whitson, was to center Birmingham as the place where the momentum of the civil rights movement happened.
“Shuttlesworth was really the person who had a ground game in the city.”
King leads social justice and equity projects in a number of sectors including the arts. In Birmingham, her film work includes designing the short film and Black Lens programs for the Sidewalk Film Center + Cinema. This year, King also curated the nonprofit’s inaugural Black Lens Film week, a series of films produced and directed by Black filmmakers.
King’s work takes her around the world, where she often encounters people who know about Shuttlesworth’s role in the civil rights movement. For King, who is a Birmingham native, an important part of working on the documentary is the opportunity to remind people in the city that Shuttlesworth wasn’t just a local hero— his social justice work was world-renowned.
“Locally, there’s an absent mindedness of his role,” said King. “I thought this was a great opportunity to develop that story locally.”
“One thing we wanted to do was highlight people’s experience with segregation,” said King. “This also reminds us that this wasn’t that long ago.”