AJC Sepia Playlist honors John Lewis, C.T. Vivian

Credit: Staff

Credit: Staff

Music played a major role in the lives of the icons and on the civil rights movement

Have you ever seen John Lewis dance?

Ever have the joy of listening to C.T. Vivian read poetry?

The world lost two icons last week when the civil rights leaders died hours apart on July 17.

In all of the tributes and celebrations that marked their lives, it was clear how the arts and music impacted their lives.

From the paintings, books and sculptures that lined their Atlanta homes, to the music they listened to.

ExploreFollow all of the AJC's coverage of John Lewis

Music also played a key role in the American civil rights movement, of which both Lewis and Vivian were key figures.

In honor of both men, AJC Sepia has put together a Spotify Playlist that traces the evolution of the civil rights movement – through gospel music, spirituals, soul, jazz and rap.

We start with a poem, by Vivian’s favorite poet – Claude McKay.

Vivian often told the story of meeting the Jamaican-born Harlem Renaissance poet once. And if you prompted him, which didn’t take much, he would quickly recite one of his favorite poems by McKay, the stunningly beautiful, “To O.A.E.”

McKay never revealed who O.A.E was, but to hear Vivian say, “Your voice is the color of a robin’s breast, And there’s a sweet sob in it like rain -- still rain in the night,” it didn’t really matter.

But we start the playlist with McKay himself explaining and reading his most famous poem, “If We Must Die,” which was described as the “essence of the New Negro” when it was published in 1919.

In 2013, Vivian recited the poem for a series of stories The Atlanta Journal-Constitution did on him. You can see him read, “that good stuff, Doc,” it in the video below.

The National Monuments Foundation will be acquiring and managing the world-class library of Atlanta Civil Rights icon, C.T. Vivian. The 7,000 volume C.T. Vivian Library is one of the most impressive private collections in the city. (Video by Hyosub Shin / AJC)

ExploreThe life and legacy of C.T. Vivian

We end the playlist with Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.”


Because it made John Lewis feel good.

In 2014, Lewis went viral when his staff posted a 1:37-second video of the congressman dancing to the infectious tone.

“This is my song,” Lewis as he danced the two-step.

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The minute and a half of watching the congressman dance, laugh and joke are glorious and beautiful.

As the song ends and he turned around to go back to work, Lewis summed up his life, “Nothing can bring me down.”

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