Statement on the Passing of Civil Rights Leader C.T. Vivian

Civil rights activist C.T. Vivian in Atlanta in 2012.  Photo by David Goldman / Associated Press

I am deeply saddened to hear of the death of Rev. C.T. Vivian. Knowing him was one of the special blessings of my life.  He was a truly exceptional and authentic witness for justice.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Rev. C.T. Vivian at the Obama White House.

Born in Boonville, Missouri on July 30, 1924, he and his late wife, Octavia Geans Vivian, had six children. Vivian participated in his first nonviolent protest, a lunch counter sit-in in Peoria, Illinois, in 1947.

With the help of his church, he enrolled in American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville in 1955. He served as a Baptist minister and a member of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s inner circle of advisers, alongside Ralph Abernathy and other civil rights luminaries. Famously known by Dr. King as “the greatest preacher to ever live.”

Vivian became Director of National Affiliates for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference where he led a group of people to register to vote in Selma, Alabama.

In a world struggling to come to grips with racial inequality in the 1960s, he was a champion for nonviolence on the front lines of bloody confrontations, leading peaceful protesters and absorbing the blows of segregationists and law enforcement officials across the South.

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

I was deeply humbled and honored to call C.T. a friend. May God bless his memory and legacy.