Civil Rights, News, Obituaries, Politics, Religion

Rev. C.T. Vivian, key adviser to Dr. Martin Luther King, Freedom Rider, author, and a man of courage, has died

By Frederick H. Lowe


Funeral services will be held Thursday in Atlanta for Rev. C.T. Vivian, an early and key adviser to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the funeral service will be open only to the immediate family.  The service is scheduled to begin at 11a.m. in Providence Missionary Baptist Church. It will be streamed live online and broadcast on Atlanta television station WSB-TV., according to the Octavia Vivian Museum Museum and Archives.

His body will lie in state in the rotunda of the Georgia Capitol prior to his funeral.

Rev. Vivian died in his Atlanta home on July 17th. He was 95. Rev. Vivian was born in Booneville, Missouri, on July 30, 1924. He was the only child of Robert and Euzetta Tindell Vivian. The family moved to Macomb, Illinois, where he graduated from Macomb High School in 1942.

He attended Western Illinois University in Macomb but dropped out to take a job in Peoria, Illinois, where he became a recreation worker. It was there he joined his first protest in 1947 to desegregate the cafeteria before lunch-counter protests made newspaper headlines.

In 1955, he and other ministers founded the Nashville Christian Leadership Conference, an affiliate of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The group organized and trained students to be part of a movement to end segregation in Nashville.

In 1959, Vivian studied at American Baptist Theological Seminary,  later renamed American Baptist College, in Nashville. As a student, he met and became friends with James Lawson who was teaching Gandi’s non-violent philosophy.

The Nashville affiliate organized the city’s first sit-ins in 1960 and led the first march of the Civil Rights Movement. In 1961, Vivian joined Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) members and other ministers to continue the Freedom Rides into Jackson, Miss. after a group from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) disbanded.

Police arrested SNCC members,  and Vivian was badly beaten while being held in Mississippi State Penitentiary, also called Parchman Farm in Sunflower County, Mississippi. Parchman Farm is a maximum security prison, which shows that some whites considered SNCC as a threat to their way of life.

In 1957 while studying at the American Baptist College in Nashville, Tennessee, Vivian heard for the first time Dr. King speak about nonviolence.

He later would become a member of Dr. King’s inner circle of advisers that included Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth, Rev. Wyatt T. Walker, and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy.

In 1963, Martin Luther King asked Vivian to work on the Executive Staff of the SCLC as the national director of affiliates. As an SCLC strategist, he worked to help get the Civil Rights Bill and Voting Rights Acts passed. In 1965, he famously confronted Sheriff Jim Clark on the steps of Selma’s courthouse while leading blacks to register to vote.

Clark punched in him in the mouth. Deputies dragged Vivian face down to a cell.

Rev. Vivian was the national director of 85 local affiliate chapters of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference from 1963 to 1966, where he developed and led protest activities in Selma and Birmingham, Alabama, St. Augustine, Florida, Jackson, Mississippi, and other segregated cities.

He was often jailed and beaten. In St. Augustine, roving gangs of whites, protected by police, beat black swimmers with chains. Rev. Vivian nearly drowned.

After leaving Dr. King’s staff, he founded an organization to help Black Chicagoans find work.

He also wrote the book “Black Power and The American Myth.” Published in 1970, the book was an early look at the movement inspired and led by Dr. King.

In 1984, he became deputy campaign director for Rev. Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign. And in  2013, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Barack Obama.

Rev. Vivian is survived by four daughters and two sons.



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