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Services honor Civil Rights Leader C.T. Vivian

Crusader Staff Report

Dignitaries from across the country this week said farewell to civil rights leader C.T. Vivian with several public memorials in Atlanta, where he spent most of his life fighting for equality for Blacks.

On Wednesday, a stream of mourners filed past Vivian’s casket as he lay in state at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta.

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THE CASKET OF CIVIL Rights Leader C.T. Vivian lies in state in the rotunda of the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta on Wednesday, July 20. (Screenshot,

Vivian’s body lying in state was live streamed on several websites. At the event, Vivian’s son, Alvin spoke and urged mourners to “live out the history of my father.”

“Love one another, trust one another, connect with each other across our cultural differences,” he said. “Then we can become the America that we say we are. Until we do that, we are not.”

Governor Brian Kemp described Vivian as an “incredible man” who “stood on the front lines of the fight for equality.”

After the three-hour viewing, Vivian’s casket was scheduled to be taken on a horse-drawn carriage from the Capitol to the crypt of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, one of his closest allies during the Civil Rights Movement.

Before reaching King’s crypt, the carriage was scheduled to stop at the national headquarters of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, where Vivian was the director of national affiliates in the 1960s and national president in 2012.

Vivian died July 17 of natural causes at his home. His death came two weeks before Vivian would have celebrated his 96th birthday.

On Wednesday, Vivian’s family was escorted to the rotunda in the Capitol building by Governor Kemp. His casket was later covered by the Georgia flag.

Vivian’s funeral was scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday, July 23 at Atlanta’s Providence Missionary Baptist Church. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, family members planned a private funeral but arranged for the service to be streamed online on the church’s website.

Vivian is one of three civil rights giants to die this year. Hours after his death, Congressman John Lewis died of pancreatic cancer. Last March, Reverend Joseph Lowery died after decades of fighting for racial equality and social justice.

Born on July 30 in Boonville, Missouri, Vivian had a strong religious upbringing. With the help of his church, he enrolled in American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville in 1955.

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

By 1965, 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. As 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.” Clark responded by beating Vivian until blood dripped off his chin in front of rolling cameras. The images helped galvanize wider support for change.

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

Years later, the U. S. Department of Education used his Vision program as a guide to create Upward Bound, which was designed to improve high school and college graduation rates for students in underserved communities.

In the late 1970s, Vivian founded the National Anti-Klan Network, an anti-racism organization that focused on monitoring the Ku Klux Klan. Soon after it was founded, the name and direction changed because “it was bigger than the Klan,” said Vivian.

C.T. VIVIAN, pictured in the front left row, is joined by Black leaders marching down Nashville’s Jefferson Street April 19, 1960. Leading a group of 3,000 peaceful protesters to the Davidson County Courthouse on the day of the Z. Alexander Looby house bombing. Z. Alexander Looby was a prominent civil rights activist and attorney in Nashville. (File photo)

“We called it the Center for Democratic Renewal because the whole culture had to be renewed if it truly was going to be a democratic one.” Vivian said they viewed the Center for Democratic Renewal as “the political side” of what they were doing with the SCLC, which was focused on the country’s morality struggles during the civil rights movement.

President Barack Obama awarded Vivian the highest civilian honor in the nation, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 2013.

About her father, Kira Vivian said, “he was just a kind person and cared about people.”

Vivian and his late wife, Octavia Geans Vivian, had six children.

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