Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mainstream Media Overlooks Death of a Civil Rights Giant

Several famous people died during the month of October 2011.  I watched in frustration at the amount of media coverage a few individuals received and was baffled by the lack of coverage in the case of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth.  The gentleman, who did more for the American people than he is given credit for, passed away at the age of 89.  Rev. Shuttlesworth died on the same day as former Apple CEO Steve Jobs and in the same manner in which his work during the Civil Rights Movement was overshadowed by the more popular Dr. Martin Luther King, his death was overshadowed again by a more popular public figure. 

Birmingham, Alabama had a long history of white superiority and was a hotbed for violence against African American people.  Rev. Shuttlesworth was jailed more than 30 times, survived a Christmas Day bombing of his home, endured multiple beatings and was the victim of an infamous 1963 encounter with the fire hose which left him with chest injuries.  He was known for his aggressive face-off with Bull Conner and was described by some as a local militant.  Rev. Shuttlesworth and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) mass-organized local African Americans in an effort to defeat white supremacy, segregation, and worked hard to build an inclusive, grassroots movement in Birmingham that bridged deep seated class divisions. 

Unlike Dr. King, Rev. Shuttlesworth took an aggressive approach to the fight for equality.  He was different than many of the other southern preachers during the movement and was not willing to conform to the dehumanizing system of segregation, vowing not to turn the other cheek.  The group Rev. Shuttlesworth led shared his belief that non-violence was an action, but certainly not a way of life.  He was able to connect with poor people because he came from the same social class of people he was determined to help.  ACMHR joined forces with the Southern Conference Education Fund (SCEF), a group of radical whites that caused the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to question the pastor and his possible ties to the Communist Party.  Shuttlesworth believed in listening to the concerns of the people, which was the main reason he had the largest working poor membership of any city’s civil rights organization. 

Steve Jobs died after a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer.  The internet was buzzing with articles, tributes and moments of silence to honor Jobs.  News channels all over the globe diverted from their regularly scheduled programming to talk about the life and impact of one of the most influential business people we’ve seen in a long time.  Jobs inspired people as a designer and creator of hardware and software, to develop their own products and businesses.  In one way or another, his products have impacted our lives and his gadgets will be beneficial to society as a whole, but the coverage of his death was a bit too much for me.  I was surprised that his death dominated the news cycle for five or six straight days.

Longtime Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis unexpectedly died at 82 years of age.  All of the major sports networks provided wall to wall coverage once the news of Davis’ death was confirmed.  Hopefully Davis won’t solely be remembered as the owner of the team who coined the phrase, “Just Win Baby,” but will be remembered as a rebel, an innovator and an advocate for minorities and women.  Davis took a chance on people when no one else would and after everyone else had given up on them.  He hired the league’s first Hispanic coach, Tom Flores and hired Art Shell to coach the Raiders in 1989, making Shell the first African American NFL coach in the modern era.  Davis also hired the first female CEO in the NFL, Amy Trask, in 1997.  His unwavering commitment to African American and other minority athletes in the 1960’s was unprecedented considering the racial atmosphere of the nation during that time.

Indy Car driver Dan Wheldon was killed in a fiery accident during a race in Las Vegas.  News of his death spread quickly throughout the sports world for several days on radio and television.  The death of a young athlete in the prime of their career is without a doubt going to be a front page story.  Ironically, Wheldon’s death came on the same day in history that abolitionist John Brown conducted his raid on Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. 

John Brown delivered a speech to the court at his trial that made me think about the people participating in the Occupy Movements all over the world.  In defending his case for trying to help put an end to slavery, Brown famously said, “Had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends--either father, mother, brother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class--and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right; and every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.”

Arguably the most controversial death in October 2011 was that of Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi.  There are several different accounts of how he was killed and who was responsible for killing him.  One of the possible benefits of his death is bringing a sense of closure to the families of the people who were killed when Pan-Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland.  It is going to be interesting to see what happens in the fight to control the oil fields that contain the Libyan sweet crude oil companies are clamoring to gain access to.  Thankfully no American servicemen were lost during this engagement and with any luck the powers that be will restore peace to the northern African nation that has been at war since early this year.

Gadaffi’s death is already being politicized during the presidential campaign, with some people giving credit to President Obama for deciding to participate in NATO’s campaign without putting troops on the ground to take down the longtime Libyan leader.  Meanwhile, critics of the President have taken their normal “anti-everything President Obama does” stance and will continue to use the American intervention in Libya against him during the general election.  Most people still do not understand why America was involved in another country’s conflict in the first place, but the first word that comes to mind is OIL.  At the end of the day, Gadaffi is dead, and in light of the excessive media coverage of the Libyan conflict, we still don’t know how to spell his name. Perhaps by the end of the Republican primary season, the candidates will realize that Libya is on the continent of Africa; “no pun intended.”

It would have been nice to have seen the reporting of Shuttlesworth’s death on the cover of every newspaper and the lead story on every news channel.  Sadly, the coverage of his death was minuscule to say the least. African American radio talk show hosts paid their respects to Rev. Shuttlesworth and other than a few articles here or there, his name was barely mentioned on the scroll slowly rolling across the bottom of our television screens.  A man who sacrificed so much for people he did not know should be remembered for his never-ending dedication for racial equality and justice for all people.  Thankfully there were people like Fred Shuttlesworth and other unsung heroes who stood on the front lines, willingly putting themselves in harms-way for a cause that meant more to them than their own lives.

Originally published by Steve Maynor Jr. on December 11, 2011 via


  1. Nice article Gunny! Keep up the good work!

  2. Steve "Stu" Maynor Jr.December 7, 2011 at 1:58 PM

    Thank you Dr. Duke for your inspiration and exposing me to a version of history I am excited to share with as many people as I can!

  3. I searched online for our association "Scottish Climate and Energy Forum" and wondered why you were discussing us. Turns out you were discussing Southern Conference Education Fund (SCEF)!!!

    1. Well gladly you stumbled upon this article and hopefully you found it interesting and you'll continue to check out my blog. God bless!