A fiery leader and mentor within the Civil Rights Movement in Nashville and across the nation has died. Rev. C.T. Vivian passed away Friday morning in Atlanta at age 95, according to the Associated Press.
Vivian was a movement leader for more than six decades, often at the tip of the spear in the fight against racist segregation.
He was an organizer of the Freedom Rides, a leader of voter registration efforts and the renowned marches in Selma, Ala., and a close collaborator with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
In Selma, the Associated Press reports that Vivian was punched by Sheriff Jim Clark while cameras were rolling, and that ensuing coverage made the movement there a national phenomenon.
“You can turn your back now and you can keep your 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,” Vivian declared before being struck.
Vivian’s work earned him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.
In Nashville, Vivian studied at American Baptist College and mentored students in nonviolence during the early-1960s integration movement.
He was also front-and-center in one of the city’s pivotal moments.
As The Tennessean recounts, Vivian helped lead a march on city hall in April 1960. He was among those credited with compelling the city mayor to commit, on the spot, to integrate downtown lunch counters.
At the moment selected in the video below, Vivian discusses the march and the showdown with the mayor during a Library of Congress oral history:
Condolences are circulating across the nation on Friday.
Sad news, #northnashville. Rev. CT Vivian passed away earlier this AM. Sending Light+Love to his family and praying for their health and strength in the days ahead. RIP Rev. Vivian. pic.twitter.com/nBIQ2foaGn
— Learotha Williams (@learothawms) July 17, 2020
Tennessee House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart called Vivian “a giant in the civil rights movement who played an integral part in the Nashville sit-ins.”
“It is especially poignant that Rev. Vivian passed away as we are in the midst of a new civil justice campaign in the nation and in the State of Tennessee. Rev. Vivian said ‘People do not choose rebellion; it is forced upon them. Revolution is always an act of self-defense.’ Those words obviously still ring true today,” Stewart wrote.
Rev. C.T. Vivian.
Courageous. Brilliant. Sacrificial.
A powerfully well-lived life that lifted humanity. We will miss you.
Thank you, sir. pic.twitter.com/Bd9QSLitN1
— The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center (@TheKingCenter) July 17, 2020