Rev. C.T. Vivian, one of the foremost leaders of the civil rights movement, was honored at the Georgia Capitol in Atlanta Wednesday following his death last week at age 95.
Vivian, who spearheaded lunch-counter protests in Illinois and advised Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., drew cheers and tearful praise from family, friends, advocates and elected officials as his body lay in state at the Capitol.
His son, Al Vivian, urged Georgians to live out the values of love and fairness shared by his father and Congressman John Lewis, who also died last week.
“Love one another, trust one another, connect with each other across our cultural differences, then we can become the America that we say we are,” said Al Vivian. “Until we do that, we are not.”
A preacher and intellectual, C.T. Vivian organized sit-ins as a young adult in Peoria, Ill., during the early days of the civil rights movement. He was one of the Freedom Riders, a leading member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and among King’s top advisers.
In 1965, Vivian helped organize protest actions in support of voter registration efforts in Selma, Ala. On one occasion, he was punched by a sheriff on the courthouse steps while rallying to register voters.
“You can turn your back now and you can keep the club in your hand,” Vivian said. “But you cannot beat down justice.”
Vivian moved to Atlanta in 1970 where he founded and led several organizations focused on racial justice and reconciliation. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from then-President Barack Obama in 2013.
Vivian died last Friday, less than a day before the death of his iconic colleague, Lewis. The congressman and civil rights leader died of pancreatic cancer after a seven-month battle.
The lying-in-state ceremony for Vivian inspired remembrances of another profound civil rights leader with Atlanta ties, King, who was forbidden to be honored at the Capitol by then-Gov. Lester Maddox after his assassination in 1968.
Vivian’s casket was set to proceed by horse-drawn carriage from the Capitol Wednesday afternoon to the nearby SCLC national office in the historic Auburn Avenue corridor, then conclude in front of King’s tomb.