Last Friday, we lost two great civil rights leaders: U.S. Representative John Lewis (D-GA) and Reverend Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian. Mr. Lewis (80) died after a battle with Stage IV pancreatic cancer, and Rev. C.T. Vivian (95) died of natural causes. Both men devoted their lives to peacefully fight for equal rights for Black Americans during the Civil Rights Movement. After the movement, Rep. Lewis and Rev. Vivian continued their work with human rights and social justice issues.
Bernice King, daughter of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., shared on her twitter, “#CTVivian and #JohnLewis have journeyed on together. Two great vessels for the work of justice, including for voting rights for Black people in America. It’s not happenstance that, in this critical hour, with so much on the line in November, their lives are lifted high.”
Two great vessels for the work of justice, including for voting rights for Black people in America.
It’s not happenstance that, in this critical hour, with so much on the line in November, their lives are lifted high. pic.twitter.com/LsW7Ol0eXL
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) July 18, 2020
During the 1960s, Congressman Rep. Lewis and Rev. Vivian worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to peacefully challenge racism and social injustices Black Americans faced.
In 2011, President Barack Obama honored Lewis with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Two years later, President Obama also honored Rev. Vivian with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. What an amazing honor to receive the highest civilian honor and from the country’s first Black president!
CONGRESSMAN JOHN LEWIS’ CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT
In 1963, John Lewis was recognized as one of the Big Six leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. He was often called “one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced.” According to the congressman’s website, Lewis dedicated his life to protecting human rights, securing civil liberties, and building “The Beloved Community” in America.
Mr. Lewis helped form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and served as its chairman from 1963 to 1966. He also helped organize student activists and voter registration drives.
On March 7, 1965, Lewis helped lead 600 peaceful protestors across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. This day became known as “Bloody Sunday” because the marchers were violently attacked by Alabama state troopers.
Most recently, there have been calls to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge after Rep. John Lewis. The bridge was originally named for Pettus who was a confederate general and grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. I agree the bridge should be renamed in honor of Mr. Lewis and I hope the state of Alabama will make this happen.
[ You can sign the petition here to have the Edmund Pettus Bridge after Rep. John Lewis. ]
Despite being arrested more than 40 times and sustaining serious injuries from physical attacks, Congressman Lewis continued to fight against racism and advocate for Black American’s equality.
In November 1986, Mr. Lewis was elected to the U.S. Congress and served as U.S. Representative of Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District.
RELATED: REMEMBERING MEDGAR EVERS
WHO WAS REVEREND CORDY TINDELL “C.T.” VIVIAN?
Rev. C.T. Vivan also served in the Civil Rights Movement during the 60s. Along with Congressman Lewis, Rev. Vivian was part of the Freedom Riders and he worked with Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
In February 1965, Rev. Vivian served as the director of national affiliates for the SCLC and helped lead a group of Black Americans to register to vote in Selma, Alabama.
Segregationist Sheriff Jim Clark wouldn’t let Vivian enter the Dallas County courthouse so the minister peacefully spoke out and said:
“You can turn your back on me, but you cannot turn your back upon the idea of justice. You can turn your back now and you can keep the club in your hand, but you cannot beat down justice. And we will register to vote because as citizens of these United States we have the right to do it.”
The sheriff punched Rev. Vivian in the mouth, but the pastor didn’t respond with violence. Instead, he got back on his feet and kept using his voice to speak out against Alabama’s racist policies against Black Americans.
Rev. Vivian was later arrested, but he didn’t let this stop him from continuing to fight against racism and social injustice. He continued to work hard for equal rights and later he’d go on to establish a college readiness program to help “take care of the kids that were kicked out of school simply because they protested racism.”
Have you heard of the Upward Bound program? When I was in college, many of my friends and classmates benefited from Upward Bound’s services.
It’s because of Rev. Vivian that Upward Bound was created! The U.S. Department of Education used Vivan’s vision program as a guide to establishing the program to help improve high school and college graduation rates in underserved communities.
“NEVER, EVER BE AFRAID TO…GET IN GOOD TROUBLE, NECESSARY TROUBLE”
As we mourn the loss of Congressman Lewis and Rev. C.T. Vivian, may we never forget all of their hard work and contributions to the African American community and our countrty. Both of these great men helped pave the way for many of the freedoms and rights we are blessed with today.
One famous quote from Rep. John Lewis that I love is:
“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
May we never be afraid to get in good trouble and do our part to speak up and serve our communities. Rest in power, Mr. Lewis and Rev. C.T. Vivian. Thank you for all you have done for us. My condolences and prayers go out to the Lewis and Vivian family, friends, and all who are hurting during this time.