Two Giants of the Civil Rights Movement, friends, die on the same day

Jul 18, 2020

John Lewis was one of the "Big Six" leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and continued to serve the public since being elected to the House of Representatives in 1986.  Lewis was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington in 1963.  Lewis, 80, died Friday after his battle with pancreatic cancer. His family released a statement that read:

"It is with inconsolable grief and enduring sadness that we announce the passing of U.S. Rep. John Lewis.  He was honored and respected as the conscience of the US Congress and an icon of American history, but we knew him as a loving father and brother. He was a stalwart champion in the on-going struggle to demand respect for the dignity and worth of every human being.  He dedicated his entire life to non-violent activism and was an outspoken advocate in the struggle for equal justice in America.  He will be deeply missed."

Lewis was arrested about 40 times during the struggle for civil rights.  In 1965, a 25-year-old Lewis and Hosea Williams led a march from Selma to Montgomery and was attacked after crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge.  He suffered a fractured skull after being hit in the head by a state trooper.  It wasn't his first beating.  In 1961 he was beaten in Rock Hill, South Carolina as a Freedom Rider, one of 13 black and white activists who tested segregation laws.  The man who beat him then sought Lewis out and apologized for it in 2009.

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The speech Lewis gave at the March on Washington wasn't the one he first wrote.  He was invited to participate because he was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.  The first speech the 23-year-old wanted to give was a lot stronger, saying they were tired of waiting and they want their freedom and want it now.  After event organizers questioned the fiery tone, Lewis agreed to change it.  President Obama presented Lewis the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.  Lewis's congressional office claims the Congressman has been placed in handcuffs 45 times during his life.  That includes after he started representing Georgia's 5th District that is mostly comprised of Atlanta residents.  He was arrested for protesting apartheid at the South African embassy and demonstrating against genocide in Darfur at the embassy of Sudan.

Lewis's 1998 autobiography, "Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement," earned a National Book Award in 2016.  He also was a co-author of another book that won for young people's literature, the graphic novel "March: Book Three."  Lewis was the second African American elected to Congress since Reconstruction when he won his seat in 1986.  His district had elected the first, Andrew Young.  Lewis had to defeat another civil rights leader in the Democratic primary, Julian Bond.  When Barack Obama took the oath of office to become the nation's first black President, John Lewis was the only speaker from the March on Washington who was on the stage with him.  Obama signed a photo of the event with the words, "Because of you, John."

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Cordy Tindell Vivian was an American minister, author, and close friend and lieutenant of Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement.  Vivian resided in Atlanta, Georgia, and founded the C. T. Vivian Leadership Institute, Inc.

Vivian was born in Boonville, Missouri. As a small boy he migrated with his mother to Macomb, Illinois, where he attended Lincoln Grade School and Edison Junior High School. His first Vivian participation in sit-in demonstrations, successfully resuted in the  integration of Barton's Cafeteria in 1947.

Studying for the ministry at American Baptist College in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1959, Vivian met James Lawson, who was teaching Mohandas Gandhi's nonviolent direct action strategy to the Nashville Student Movement. Soon Lawson's students, including Diane Nash, Bernard Lafayette, James Bevel, John Lewis and others from American Baptist, Fisk University and Tennessee State University, organized a systematic nonviolent sit-in campaign at local lunch counters.On April 19, 1960, 4,000 demonstrators peacefully walked to   Nashville's City Hall, where Vivian and Diane Nash discussed the situation with Nashville Mayor Ben West. As a result, Mayor West publicly agreed that racial discrimination was morally wrong. Many of the students who participated in the Nashville Student Movement soon took on major leadership roles in both the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

Vivian helped found the Nashville Christian Leadership Conference and helped organize the first sit-ins in Nashville in 1960 and the first civil rights march in 1961. In 1961, Vivian participated in Freedom Rides. He worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. as the national director of affiliates for the SCLC. During the summer following the Selma Voting Rights Movement, Vivian conceived and directed an educational program, Vision, and put 702 Alabama students in college with scholarships (this program later became Upward Bound). His 1970 Black Power and the American Myth was the first book on the Civil Rights Movement by a member of Martin Luther King's staff.

In the 1970s Vivian moved to Atlanta, and in 1977 founded the Black Action Strategies and Information Center (BASICS), a consultancy on multiculturalism and race relations in the workplace and other contexts. In 1979 he co-founded, with Anne Braden, the Center for Democratic Renewal (initially as the National Anti-Klan Network), an organization where blacks and whites worked together in response to white supremacist activity. In 1984 he served in Jesse Jackson's presidential campaign, as the national deputy director for clergy. In 1994 he helped to establish and served on the board of Capitol City Bank and Trust Co., a black-owned Atlanta bank. He also served on the board of Every Church a Peace Church.

Vivian continued to speak publicly and offer workshops and did so at many conferences around the country and the world, including with the United Nations. He was featured as an activist and an analyst in the civil rights documentary Eyes on the Prize, and was featured in a PBS special, The Healing Ministry of Dr. C. T. Vivian. He made numerous appearances on Oprah as well as the Montel Williams Show and Donahue.[14] He was the focus of the biography Challenge and Change: The Story of Civil Rights Activist C.T. Vivian by Lydia Walker.

In 2008, Vivian founded and incorporated the C. T. Vivian Leadership Institute, Inc. (CTVLI) to "Create a Model Leadership Culture in Atlanta" Georgia. The C. T. Vivian Leadership Institute conceived, developed and implemented the "Yes, We Care" campaign on December 18, 2008 (four days after the City of Atlanta turned the water off at Morris Brown College (MBC) and, over a period of two and a half months, mobilized the Atlanta community to donate in excess of $500,000 directly to Morris Brown as "bridge funding." That effort saved the Historically Black College or University (HBCU) and allowed the college to negotiate with the city which ultimately restored the water services to the college.

On August 8, 2013, President Barack Obama named Vivian as a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The citation in the press release reads as follows:

C. T. Vivian is a distinguished minister, author, and organizer. A leader in the Civil Rights Movement and friend to Martin Luther King, Jr., he participated in Freedom Rides and sit-ins across our country. Vivian also helped found numerous civil rights organizations, including Vision, the National Anti-Klan Network, and the Center for Democratic Renewal. In 2012, he returned to serve as interim President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Vivian died on July 17, 2020, in Atlanta 2 weeks before his 96th birthday, the same day as his friend and fellow activist, John Lewis.