Activism

Civil Rights Veteran Rev. C.T. Vivian Dies At 95, And Tributes Pour In

The lifelong civil rights advocate who worked alongside Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., died at his Atlanta home on Friday.

Getty Images / President Barack Obama awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to C.T. Vivian in the East Room at the White House on November 20, 2013.

Rev. Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian, a lifelong civil rights advocate who worked alongside Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., died at his Atlanta home on Friday. He was  95. Two of Vivian’s daughters, Kira Vivian and Denise Morse confirmed his death to multiple sources. 

Vivian was born in 1924 in Missouri but moved to Macomb, Illinois, with his mother and grandmother as a boy according to the National Visionary Leadership Project. He later studied for the ministry at the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee and met activist James Lawson, who taught nonviolent direct action strategy to many other renowned civil rights activists including Diane Nash, James Bevel and John Lewis. He then helped found the Nashville Christian Leadership Conference, an affiliate of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and co-organized the Tennessee city’s first sit-ins in 1960 and the first march of the Civil Rights Movement. He also participated in the Freedom Rides, working to desegregate buses in the South.

Rev. King asked Vivian to work on the Executive Staff of the SCLC as the national director of affiliates in 1963, according to the National Visionary Leadership Project. With the SCLC he worked to help get the Civil Rights Bill and Voting Rights Acts passed. He also stood up to segregationist sheriff Jim Clark in the 1960s while attempting to register Black voters in Selma, Alabama, the New York Times reported. The sheriff then reportedly punched Vivian, in an assault that gained national attention. 

In the late 1970s, Vivian co-founded the Center for Democratic Renewal (formally the National Anti-Klan Network) against white supremacist activity.

In 2013, President Barack Obama honored Vivian with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and praised him for “still in the action, pushing us closer to our founding ideals.”

Vivian’s friend and business partner Don Rivers confirmed to The Associated Press that he died of natural causes. 

“He’s such a nice, gentle, courageous man,” Rivers said.

In response to his passing, many praised Vivian’s legacy, as many American’s have been fighting in the streets against police brutality that disproportionately affects Black people as well as racist systems that the country has upheld.