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Remembering Beloved Civil Rights Giant C.T. Vivian

Remembering Beloved Civil Rights Giant C.T. Vivian

May we all live with this level of commitment to justice.

Reverend C.T. Vivian, a beloved veteran civil rights activist and champion for non-violence, passed away at his home in Atlanta, Georgia, NPR reports

Born Cordy Tindell Vivian, July 28, 1924 in Missouri, Rev. Vivian became active in the fight for civil rights at an early age, organizing some of the first sit-ins in Nashville in the 1940s. A staunch advocate for nonviolent action, Vivian met Dr. Martin Luther King during the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott. He became a close friend of Kings, serving as the National Director of Affiliates for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), helping to organize civil rights actions across the south. A commanding orator and charismatic leader, Vivian was often on the front lines, being jailed and beaten all in the name of justice. 

In 1965, it was the live attack on Rev. Vivian by Sheriff Jim Clark that galvanized thousands to march from Selma to Montgomery. “You can turn your back on me, but you cannot turn your back upon the idea of justice. You can turn your back now and you can keep the club in your hand, but you cannot beat down justice. And we will register to vote, because as citizens of these United States we have the right to do it,” Vivian told reporters at the time.

In addition to his work with the SCLC and the freedom rides, Vivian continued to advocate for civil rights over the years. He consulted with five presidents; Lyndon B Johnson Jimmy Carter Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama on civil rights matters. In 2008 he created the C.T. Vivian Leadership Institute focused on “training and educating the new generation of grassroots leaders.” And in 2013, President Obama honored Vivian with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Obama posted about the civil rights legend’s passing, thanking him for his “friendship encouraging words and ever-present smile,” also noting that it was due to the sacrifice of leaders like Vivian that it was even possible for him to become President

“The trail they blazed gave today’s generation of activists and marchers a roadmap to tag in and finish the journey. And I have to imagine that seeing the largest protest movement in history unfold over his final months gave the Reverend a final dose of hope before his long and well-deserved rest,” Obama wrote.

Vivian will lie in state Wednesday, July 22nd, at the Georgia State Capitol Building before a horse drawn carriage leads the procession to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference headquarters, concluding in front of the tomb of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A private service will be held at 11 AM in Atlanta.

“There must always be the understanding of what Martin had in mind for this organization. Nonviolent direct action makes us successful. We learned how to solve social problems without violence. We cannot allow the nation or the world to ever forget that,” Vivian said in a 2012 interview.

The civil rights legend passed away from natural causes. He was 95 years old.

Photo Courtesy of David Goldman/Associated Press