C.T. Vivian was a close associate of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a prominent leader in the nonviolent struggle for racial justice.
ATLANTA – The late civil rights leader C.T. Vivian will be remembered Thursday morning in a private funeral in Atlanta’s Providence Missionary Baptist Church.
The service is scheduled to start at 11 a.m. ET and will be closed to the public because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Vivian died July 17 in his Atlanta home of natural causes. He was 95.
According to representatives of the C.T. and Octavia Vivian Museum and Archives, Vivian’s six grandsons will serve as pallbearers. His friends and sons are expected to speak at the service.
Funeral organizers said video tributes by presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, Oprah Winfrey and baseball icon Hank Aaron are planned.
Writer Claude McKay’s poem “If We Must Die” will be read during the funeral, according to the program. It reads, in part: “If we must die, O let us nobly die, so that our precious blood may not be shed in vain.”
The funeral comes one day after Vivian was honored in the Georgia State Capitol, where his body lay in state Wednesday.
“This is an ultimate honor,” Vivian’s son, Mark Vivian, said Wednesday after a short ceremony in the Capitol’s rotunda. “It’s just an honor that now more folks are learning who he is and what he stood for, and also what the movement was and how the movement came about.”
Vivian’s casket was then taken in a processional to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park. King, whom Vivian closely advised, once described Vivian as “the greatest preacher to ever live.” In 2013, President Barack Obama honored Vivian, who had continued to promote racial equality in recent years, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Vivian’s career spanned more than six decades, going back to his first sit-in demonstrations to desegregate a cafeteria in the 1940s in Peoria, Illinois. Vivian met King soon after the budding civil rights leader’s victory in the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott. He became an active member of what would become the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and participated in the Freedom Rides in Mississippi, when activists faced great violence while challenging segregation in public transit by riding buses across the South in 1961.
Perhaps best known for his work in Selma, Vivian argued with then-Sheriff James Clark on the steps of a courthouse in Selma in 1965 over racial inequities in voting during a drive to get Black citizens in the town register. Clark later struck Vivian, knocking him down. Vivian then stood up and continued to make his arguments.
Weeks after the incident on the courthouse steps, thousands marched from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama on Bloody Sunday to bring awareness to racial inequities. The coverage of the violence against the marchers helped galvanize the country and by the end of the year Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Local news channel WSB-TV is expected to livestream a broadcast of the funeral, according to a release from the C.T. and Octavia Vivian Museum and Archives.
Contributing: Associated Press
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