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[graphic] 2005

Bethel Baptist Church, shortly after bombing
Photo from National Historic Landmarks collection
On Christmas Day, 1956, a large bundle of dynamite exploded next to Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, destroying the parsonage in which Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and his family lived. The church was also damaged but miraculously there were no fatalities. Speaking from experience, in a 1961 CBS documentary entitled “Who Speaks for Birmingham?” Reverend Shuttlesworth proclaimed, ''We're determined to either kill segregation or be killed by it.''

Bethel Baptist Church was built in 1926 in the African American working class neighborhood of Collegeville. Reverend Shuttlesworth, a well-known civil rights leader and later a friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was pastor of Bethel Baptist Church from 1953 to 1961. He participated in several desegregation protests and served as a role model for all freedom-loving people. It was during Shuttlesworth's tenure that the little red brick church achieved national prominence.

Bethel Baptist Church Guardhouse (above) and view of church from between the guardhouse and new parsonage
Photos from National Historic Landmarks collection

After hearing about the success of the 1953 Baton Rouge bus boycott and others like it, and while serving as membership chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Birmingham, Reverend Shuttlesworth “decided it was time to form a direct action movement in Birmingham.” Several local ministers and members of the community came together to form the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) and appointed Reverend Shuttlesworth as president. Bethel Baptist Church was headquarters of the ACMHR from 1956 to 1961, playing a pivotal role in the success of the 1961 Freedom Ride that compelled the Federal Government to enforce the desegregation of public transportation and the 1963 Birmingham campaign that led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The church provided meeting space, offices, rent and utilities free of charge to the ACMHR and, along with other churches in the area, hosted mass meetings every Monday night for the next decade.

Both Bethel Baptist Church and Reverend Shuttlesworth were threatened and attacked several times, but they both survive to this day and will always be remembered for the significant roles they played in the Civil Rights Movement. Bethel Baptist Church, Parsonage and Guard House received National Historic Landmark designation on April 5, 2005.

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