In 2000 a Lillian Smith Book Award was presented to Andrew Manis for A Fire You Can't Put Out: The Civil Rights Life of Birmingham's Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth. Reverend Shuttlesworth himself was on hand for the occasion and shared the following reflections:
I heard of the Southern Regional Council years back, when there were no voices of clarity being heard about whether or not blacks did have some rights that whites should respect. There was always a word that I could read from the Southern Regional Council and I always thank God for them, because they said segregation was wrong. Most white people that I knew that said anything about segregation tried to make it right. So, I want to congratulate you for just down-to-earth saying the truth.
I came up under the dark days of segregation, the Klan, and the collective efforts of state and local officials to stop and block integration at any cost. But I must say that this is God's world and he moves, sometimes, in his own way. Every once in a while there is someone who by faith can feel as if God is with them and that God really owns them and they want to see God overcome some of the evil in this world. He moves in the hearts of people. And I've often said that when God has a contract for work to be done it has to be the men and women who have faith. We need more people who can hear the voice of God, and who can understand that God, if he is for anything at all, he is for justice first.
So allow me to congratulate Dr. Manis on his sacred award. I think he did a good job of trying to interpret a life that is dedicated and I believe God wants more people to be dedicated. Dr. King said that if a person hasn't found something that he is willing to die for, he really hasn't begun to live.
At first when I read the book, I wanted to take offense at it. I don't take offense at things often. I take offense at segregation and he was writing about my fighting it, so I certainly didn't want to take offense at him. But he did mention the word confrontation a lot. As I looked at it and listened to what he was saying, I said, "My goodness. That is right. You ought to get mad about injustice." Mine is a life of confrontation. And yours should be too. Light confronts darkness. Good is supposed to confront evil. Right is supposed to confront wrong.
I wasn't worried about dying. It shocks some people when I say that, because they don't believe that a purpose can be something that a person could give his life for. And yet that is the greatest thing; that is what salvation is based on. I was as determined to kill segregation as I have ever been anything in my life.
My friend and compatriot, Hosea Williams--he was courageous to the point of a spiritual and obsessive insanity for justice. I said to him one time, "Hosea you've been in two armies. You've been in the army of killing, of destruction--whether for freedom or not and you were trained to kill. Now you are in another army dealing on another type of battlefield." I asked, "Which one would you agree to being the best?" He thought that the battlefield of men's hearts, minds, and souls was the main one. And that was where he lived.
So, I close with this incident. See, the worst problem I ever had was not in Birmingham. It was in St. Augustine, Florida, when those Klansmen had even the policemen almost running. So we decided that if we were going to win, we couldn't let those segregationists go to bed every night and sleep well, that the business of getting freedom ought to be both night and day, so we decided to have night marches. As we could, the leaders would go down and get the people marching.
Hosea and I led the first night's demonstration and we had policemen with guns and mace and one of them even had a riot gun on his shoulder. In Florida, in the section where we were marching, there was a grove that came up on each side of the street and then we would be right out into the wide-open street, about eight lanes. The policemen were so nervous--they even admitted it to Hosea and me. Any Klansmen could be out there with a gun. So I said to the policemen, "You shouldn't be worried, you've got guns to match their guns, haven't you?" I said, "We've got something stronger than guns." He didn't understand that. Hosea and I were at the front. When we got just about up to the grove--the police believed that the Klansmen were really out there, I guess--so they kind of slunk back. Hosea and I joined hands and we walked out. When we got right back to the edge of the street, Hosea threw his head back and yelled, "God will take care of you," and everybody started singing. And, do you know, that made the policemen happy? You can be happy too, you know. If you do God's will and work, God will take care of you.
I could go on but let me just thank God for this organization, for what you have done, for what you will do, and what you mean to those behind us.