C.T. Vivian – Civil Rights Pioneer

Distinguished minister, author and civil rights pioneer, Rev. Dr. Cordy Tindell “C. T.” Vivian, as a small boy, migrated with his mother to Macomb, IL where he attended Lincoln Grade School and Edison Junior High School. Dr. Vivian graduated from Macomb Senior High School in 1942 and went on to attend Western Illinois University in Macomb, where he worked as the sports editor for the school newspaper.

Later in life C.T. Vivian became a leader and organizer in the Civil Rights Movement, and a confidant and friend to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Vivian participated in Freedom Rides and sit-ins across the country along side John Lewis. He also helped establish numerous civil rights organizations, including the National Anti-Klan Network, Vision, and the Center for Democratic Renewal.

Rev. Dr. Vivian helped organize the first lunch counter sit-ins in Nashville in 1960, and the city’s first civil rights march a year later. He worked alongside King, James Bevel, Diane Nash and members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Birmingham, Selma, Chicago and the March on Washington.

In 1966, a year after the Selma Movement, Vivian created and directed the educational program, Vision, and put several hundred Alabama students in college with scholarships. The program name changed and later became Upward Bound. His 1970 book, Black Power and the American Myth was the first publication on the Civil Rights Movement by a member of King’s staff.

In 2013, Dr. C.T. Vivian was honored for his vision and leadership in the fight for justice when he was awarded this Nation’s highest civilian honor – The Presidential Medal of Freedom. He has provided civil rights counsel to Presidents Johnson, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and Obama. The New School for Social Research spoke of Dr. Vivian as a “… spiritual leader, apostle of social justice, strategist of the civil rights movement … For decades he has been in the vanguard of the struggle for racial equality in America”, as they presented him with one of his many honorary doctorates.

The Reverend Doctor C.T. Vivian passed away Friday, July 17, 2020 at the age 95, astonishingly on the same day as his life long friend Rep. John Lewis. He was honored at his funeral by TV personality and author Oprah Winfrey, baseball legend Hank Aaron and former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young.

A 75 foot long mural depicting Dr. Vivian late in life looking over the course of his storied lifetime from a young man graduating from Macomb High School and Western Illinois University through his varied experiences as a Reverend and leading activist in The Civil Rights Movement working shoulder to shoulder with Rev. Martin Luther King and life long friend Rep. John Lewis to receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barrack Obama was dedicated in Macomb on July 30th, 2022 in honor of Dr. Vivian’s birthdate.

Plans for a C.T. Vivian Center and Park are underway at the site of his childhood home in Macomb, IL.