Thursday, February 9, 2023
Legendary Civil Rights Icon C.T. Vivian Dies at 95
By Stacy M. Brown NNPA Newswire Senior Correspondent
Published July 23, 2020

The Rev. C.T. Vivian, seen in a 2012 portrait at his Atlanta home, has died at the age of 95.

“Some thoughts on the Reverend C.T. Vivian, a pioneer who pulled America closer to our founding ideals and a friend I will miss greatly,” Former President Barack Obama wrote in a statement. “We’ve lost a founder of modern America, a pioneer who shrunk the gap between reality and our constitutional ideals of equality and freedom.”

The Rev. C.T. Vivian, the legendary civil rights activist who marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., has died.

Rev. Vivian was 95.


Vivian’s daughter, Denise Morse, confirmed her father’s death and told Atlanta’s NBC affiliate WXIA that he was “one of the most wonderful men who ever walked the earth.”

Vivian reportedly suffered a stroke earlier this year, but his family said he died of natural causes.

“He has always been one of the people who had the most insight, wisdom, integrity, and dedication,” said former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, a contemporary of Vivian who also worked alongside King.

“The Reverend Dr. C.T. Vivian was one of my strongest mentors in the Civil Rights Movement,” National Newspaper Publishers Association President Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., stated.

“Rev. Vivian, like Martin Luther King, Jr, and Joseph Lowery was a visionary theologian, genius, and a leading force in the tactical and strategic planning of effective nonviolent civil disobedience demonstrations. C.T. has passed the eternal baton to a new generation of civil rights agitators and organizers.”

President Barack Obama awards minister and civil rights activist Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the East Room of the White House, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

In a statement emailed to BlackPressUSA, the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks expressed their condolences.

“The Atlanta Hawks organization is deeply saddened by the passing of Civil Rights Movement leader, minister, and author, Dr. Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian. The city of Atlanta and the entire world has lost a distinguished icon whose leadership pushed the United States to greater justice and racial equality for African Americans,” team officials wrote in the email.


“To inspire the next generation, Vivian founded the C.T. Vivian Leadership Institute in Atlanta, with the intent to create a model of leadership culture in the city that would be dedicated to the development and sustainability of our communities.”

In this June 19, 2014, file photo, Civil Rights pioneer Rev. C.T. Vivian preaches during a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act in Knoxville, Tenn. (Paul Efird/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)

They continued:

“Vivian also started Basic Diversity, one of the nation’s first diversity consulting firms, now led by his son, Al, who has been a great partner to our organization. We are grateful for Dr. Vivian’s many years of devotion to Atlanta and thankful that we had the opportunity to honor and share his legacy with our fans. The entire Hawks organization extends its most sincere condolences to the grieving family.”

Rev. Vivan was active in sit-in protests in Peoria, Illinois, in the 1940s, and met King during the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott — a demonstration spurred by Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a White rider. The 13-month mass protest drew international attention.

Rev. C.T. Vivian, left, and Rev. James Lawson take part in a discussion at Middle Tennessee State University about the Voting Rights Act Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, in Murfreesboro, Tenn. The two legends of the Civil Rights Movement say they’re encouraged by efforts to maintain equality at the polls amid what they see as attempts to thwart it. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Rev. Vivian went on to become an active early member of the group that eventually became the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, according to his biography.

Like King, Vivian was committed to the belief that nonviolent protests could carry the day.

“Some thoughts on the Reverend C.T. Vivian, a pioneer who pulled America closer to our founding ideals and a friend I will miss greatly,” Former President Barack Obama wrote in a statement. “We’ve lost a founder of modern America, a pioneer who shrunk the gap between reality and our constitutional ideals of equality and freedom.”

Rev. Vivian was born in Boonville, Missouri, on July 30, 1924. He and his late wife, Octavia Geans Vivian, had six children.

With the help of his church, he enrolled in American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville in 1955.

Hundreds of marchers hold hands as they cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., on Sunday, March 7, 2004. It is the 39th anniversary of the civil rights march across the bridge when state troopers used tear gas and billy clubs against activists marching. Front row from left: U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. C.T. Vivian. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

That same year he and other ministers founded the Nashville Christian Leadership Conference, an affiliate of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, according to the National Visionary Leadership Project. The group helped organize the city’s first sit-ins and civil rights march.

By 1965, Rev. Vivian had become the director of national affiliates for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference when he led a group of people to register to vote in Selma, Alabama.

In this Jan. 27, 2007, file photo, C.T. Vivian uses an intercom with Rev. James Lawson on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., to discuss the experiences they encountered in 1961 as Freedom Riders, a group of college students who defied segregation on interstate buses across the American South. (Lavondia Majors/The Tennessean via AP)

CNN memorialized Rev. Vivian, noting that, as the county Sheriff Jim Clark blocked the group, Vivian said in a fiery tone, “We will register to vote because as citizens of the United States we have the right to do it.”

Rev. C. T. Vivian (L) and Kira Vivian attend Selma and the Legends Who Paved the Way special screening and gala in Santa Barbara, CA on Saturday, December 6, 2014.
(Photo: Michael Underwood / ABImages) via AP Images

Clark responded by beating Vivian until blood dripped off his chin in front of rolling cameras. The images helped galvanize more comprehensive support for change.

Vivian also created a college readiness program to help “take care of the kids that were kicked out of school simply because they protested racism.”

In this April 4, 2012 photo, civil rights activists and Southern Christian Leadership Conference members, from left, Ralph Worrell, Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Jr., C.T. Vivian and Frederick Moore, join hands and sing “We Shall Overcome” at the Atlanta gravesite of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., marking the 44th anniversary of his assassination. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

“I admired him from and before I became a senator and got to know him as a source of wisdom, advice, and strength on my first presidential campaign,” Obama stated.

“I’m only here to thank C.T. Vivian and all the heroes of the civil rights generation. Because of them, the idea of just, fair, inclusive, and generous America came closer into focus. The trails they blazed gave today’s generation of activists and marchers a road map to tag in and finish the journey.”

Democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson, center, joins hands with Mrs. Louise Wadley, left and Rev. C.T. Vivian to say grace before having dinner at Carver Homes in Atlanta, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 1984. (AP Photo/Joe Holloway)


C.T. Vivian addressing the annual convention of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History in Atlanta, September 27, 2015. (File Photo)


In ’65, Rev CT Vivian, ’24 – 17Jul’20, was arguing for voting rights when the sheriff punched him in the mouth and knocked him off his feet. He stood back up and kept talking before he was stitched and jailed. This confrontation sparked the march across the Edmund Pettus bridge. (Steve Schapiro/Getty Images)

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