Octavia Geans Vivian, 83: A tower of the civil rights movement

For 58 years, C.T. Vivian was devoted to his wife, Octavia, who died in 2011. Family Photo



For 58 years, C.T. Vivian was devoted to his wife, Octavia, who died in 2011. Family Photo

Octavia and the Rev. C.T. Vivian became a go-to duo for the civil rights movement when they married 58 years ago. She was committed to the same social causes as her husband, a freedom fighter who stood firm for justice, equality and fairness for blacks.

"She was quite a lady, a scholar, thinker, doer, writer and activist," said the Rev. Dr. Howard Creecy Jr., president/CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. "She was the perfect partner for her husband. They were twin towers of the civil rights movement."

On May 5, Octavia Geans Vivian of Atlanta died from complications of Parkinson's disease at Emory Crawford Long Hospital. She was 83. A memorial will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at Atlanta's Providence Missionary Baptist Church. Willie A. Watkins Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

A Michigan native, Mrs. Vivian held a degree in social work from Eastern Michigan University. She married Rev. Vivian on Feb. 23, the date of her birthday and the couple's first date.

In 1961, Rev. Vivian joined the executive staff of the SCLC as its national director of affiliates. He traveled the south organizing sit-ins and protests while his wife, primarily, focused on the local freedom struggle.

She helped desegregate DeKalb County public schools and was one of that county's first black deputy voter registrars. Mrs. Vivian oversaw the collection and organization of papers that chronicled the history of the SCLC and the civil rights movement. She worked in public relations at Morris Brown College.

In 1970, she wrote "Coretta," a biography of Coretta Scott King, that is now published in several languages. When Mrs. King died in 2006, the author, with the help of relatives, revised and published a commemorative edition of the civil rights matriarch. Parkinson's had set in and she was unable to type, so from memory, she dictated information used for additional chapters.

Mrs. Vivian held Mrs. King in high regards and they shared a special bond as wives of two of the most public faces of the civil rights movement.

"They were close, they were good friends," Denise Vivian Morse, a daughter from Fayetteville, recently told SCLC Magazine. "My mother simply loved Coretta; she respected her. She understood what Coretta had to go through -- the loneliness, struggling to do everything on your own, being poor most of the time and worrying about your husband's safety."

Without question, Rev. Vivian says he married a soul mate, someone "as close to perfect as any human being I have ever known."

"Had it not been for our wives, we couldn't have done the things we did," he said. "I remember coming home after being away two weeks. I was asleep and when I woke up all the kids were sitting around the bed, just looking at me, wondering who was this guy who comes to our house every now and then. Our wives had the same passion for the things we were doing."

Additional survivors include daughters, Kira E. Vivian of Atlanta; Anita Charisse Thornton of Jacksonville, Fla.; a stepdaughter, Jo Anna Walker of Peoria, Ill.; sons, Mark Evans Vivian of Decatur and Albert Louis Vivian of  Fayetteville; 14 grandchildren; 17 great-grandchildren.