Located in the working-class neighborhood of Collegeville in Birmingham, Alabama, two amazing examples of perseverance and tenacity stand, Historic Bethel Baptist Church and Parsonage. These two structures reflect the Modern Civil Rights Movement and its leader, Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth.
Built in 1926, Historic Bethel Baptist Church, Collegeville, became the epicenter for a non-violent protest movement that swept across the United States and around the world. Under the leadership of Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth, Bethel became the official launching pad of the Modern Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham, Alabama.
Bethel was the headquarters for the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) which was established in 1956, after the state of Alabama outlawed the NAACP and declared it a foreign corporation. The State of Alabama took this step because Rev. Shuttlesworth refused to give the names of its members to the Alabama Attorney General. The ACMHR applied both legal and nonviolent direct action against segregation.
The protest movement that Rev. Shuttlesworth launched from Bethel, attacked segregation in all its forms as he and the ACMHR sought for all citizens the right to vote, attend schools supported with taxpayer dollars, seek community improvements, utilize public accommodations, seek equal employment opportunities, justice in the courtrooms, and the right to sit in any open seat on city buses. Because of Rev. Shuttlesworth, the impact of the victory over segregation in Birmingham inspired people across the nation and around the world.
Bethel Baptist was also a key location during the 1961 Freedom Rides and was the designated point of contact for the group in Alabama. Rev. Shuttlesworth worked with other movement leaders and the Kennedy administration to strategize moving the rides forward.
The church and its parsonage were bombed three times during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, including Christmas Day, 1956.
On April 5, 2005, Historic Bethel was recognized as a National Historic Landmark. In 2009, Bethel was nominated by the National Park Service to UNESCO for recognition as a World Heritage Site.
Historic Bethel Baptist Church’s Heritage is Recognized and Protected:
- Bethel Baptist Church’s role in the American Civil Rights Movement is now officially recognized as being of global significance and impact.
- World Heritage status celebrates and maintains the uniqueness and authenticity of Bethel Baptist Church.
- Bethel Baptist Church and its history are protected in perpetuity for generations to experience. National and Global Recognition of Bethel Baptist Church achieved.
- Bethel Baptist Church is a supporting resource of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument District – the highest-level national designation possible.
Bethel Baptist Church is proposed to become a World Heritage Site – the highest-level global designation possible.
“America means integration, else strike from the flag its colors of red, white, and blue. America means integration, else take out of the Declaration of Independence the words, ‘All men are created equal . . .’ America means integration, else take from the pledge, ‘One nation under God indivisible with liberty and justice for all.’ America means integration, else close down your court houses, and tear the meaningless signs down from over their doors. America means integration else reopen the crack in the Liberty Bell, and let it no more proclaim liberty through the land. American means integration, else send back the Irish to Ireland, the Orientals to Asia, the Anglo Saxon back to Europe, the Negro to Africa; and call the Indian from his reservation – give him keys to the country and write sonnets and epics for his heroic dead . . . America means integration, else knock down the Statue of Liberty, and chisel off her base the slogan: ‘Give me your poor etcetera . . . America means integration else quit singing “Our Fathers God to Thee . . . author of liberty . . .”
– Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth