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Giants With Wings: Rest in Power Rev. C.T. Vivian and Rep. John Lewis

Today the world awakened to the sad news that two giants of American civil rights, fighters for human dignity had passed away.

Long-time Congressman Rep. John Lewis died late Friday night from an ongoing battle with pancreatic cancer, while civil rights leader and MLK contemporary C.T. Vivian died in his home in Atlanta surrounded by family. He was 95 years old.  

Representative Lewis had been a staple on Capitol Hill for over 30 years, he’s well known as a survivor of Bloody Sunday in 1965. In his later years, Lewis led the charge against President Donald Trump, calling himself the active leader of the resistance movement. He boycotted the inauguration and called for Trump to be impeached as recently as last October.  

Principled, brave, conscientious and, ultimately, a believer in the power of the people, Rep. John Lewis reached across generational lines throughout his career. From a young troublemaker to a beloved elder statesman, his passion and persistence will be sorely missed in these times. 

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Today, we’ve lost a founder of modern America, a pioneer who shrunk the gap between reality and our constitutional ideals of equality and freedom. C.T. Vivian was one of Dr. King’s closest advisors, a field general in his movement for civil rights and justice. “Martin taught us that it’s in the action that we find out who we really are,” Reverend Vivian once said. And he was always one of the first in the action – a Freedom Rider, a marcher in Selma, beaten, jailed, almost killed, absorbing blows in hopes that fewer of us would have to. He waged nonviolent campaigns for integration across the south, and campaigns for economic justice throughout the north, and never let up, knowing that even after the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act that he helped win, our long journey to equality was nowhere near finished. As Rosa Parks once said of Reverend Vivian, “Even after things had supposedly been taken care of and we had our rights, he was still out there.” I admired him from before I became a senator and got to know him as a source of wisdom, advice, and strength on my first presidential campaign. His friendship, encouraging words, and ever-present smile were a great source of inspiration and comfort, and personally, I will miss him greatly. I’m only here thanks to C.T. Vivian and all the heroes in that Civil Rights Generation. Because of them, the idea of a just, fair, inclusive, and generous America came closer into focus. The trail they blazed gave today’s generation of activists and marchers a roadmap to tag in and finish the journey. And I have to imagine that seeing the largest protest movement in history unfold over his final months gave the Reverend a final dose of hope before his long and well-deserved rest.

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Rev. C.T. Vivian has been a staple in the ongoing American fight for civil rights since he was a young man. Born in Boonville, MO on July 30, 1924, Vivian would go onto participate in his first lunch counter sit-in in 1947.

He would continue to participate in sit-ins before meeting Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1955. Vivian reportedly suffered a stroke two months ago and appeared to be on the mend when he suddenly stopped eating, according to family members 

In 2013, C.T. was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama 

 “The trail they blazed gave today’s generation of activists and marchers a roadmap to tag in and finish the journey,” Obama wrote on Instagram. 

“And I have to imagine that seeing the largest protest movement in history unfold over his final months gave the Reverend a final dose of hope before his long and well-deserved rest.” 

The former director of national affiliates for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was also Senior Pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church and founder of the National Anti-Klan Network, which was later renamed the Center for Democratic Renewal. He went on to found the C.T. Vivian Leadership Institute dedicated to “a model leadership culture for the purpose of training and educating the new generation of grassroots leaders.” 

Both titans of change and resilience were instrumental in laying the foundation for protest actions that are taking place across the nation. Though the timing of their demise is troubling, the blueprints they left behind will certainly inspire others to rise up in their stead. Rest in power. 

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