Obama: C.T. Vivian’s passing marks ‘well-deserved rest'

Civil Rights icon Rev. C.T. Vivian dies at age of 95
Civil Rights icon Rev. C.T. Vivian dies at age of 95

Private funeral set for Thursday in Atlanta for civil rights legend

In 2013, when President Barack Obama placed the Presidential Medal of Freedom around C.T. Vivian’s neck, he said that the preacher and civil rights icon pushed America “closer to our founding ideals.”

On Friday, upon hearing that Vivian had died while America is in the middle of a period of civil unrest, the former president pushed further, saying Vivian “shrunk the gap between reality and our constitutional ideals of equality and freedom.”

“I have to imagine that seeing the largest protest movement in history unfold over his final months gave the reverend a final dose of hope before his long and well-deserved rest,” he said.

Dr. C.T. Vivian speaks while Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl participants from Alabama and Washington football teams tour the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site and hear first-hand accounts from Civil Rights leaders at the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016, in Atlanta.
Dr. C.T. Vivian speaks while Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl participants from Alabama and Washington football teams tour the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site and hear first-hand accounts from Civil Rights leaders at the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016, in Atlanta.

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

ExploreTribute: C.T. Vivian, civil rights hero and intellectual, dead at 95

Vivian, who marched on the front lines of the civil rights movement, where he suffered violent blows and earned mountains of respect, died quietly at home in Atlanta early Friday morning. He was 95.

Vivian’s funeral will be held July 23 at 11 a.m. at Providence Missionary Baptist. The service will be live-streamed and private.

Vivian, following the March death of the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, will be the second major civil rights figure to die and not have a big, traditional funeral because of concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

“He lived a ripe old age and made good use of his time and years,” said Bernard Lafayette, who met Vivian while he was a student at the American Baptist Theological Seminary and a member of the Nashville Student Movement. ”C.T. taught lessons by the options he took, not just the words. His actions delivered the message.”

Along with Obama, the reaction to Vivian’s death was swift and emotional from the civil rights community that helped define him.

Ambassador Andrew Young, a former Atlanta mayor and himself a veteran of the civil rights movement, called Vivian “one of the people who had the most insight, wisdom, integrity and dedication.”

Alabama head football coach Nick Saban and Washington head football coach Chris Petersen greet Ambassador Andrew Young (seated left) and the Rev. C.T. Vivian at the conclusion of a Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl tour of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site to hear first-hand accounts from the Civil Rights leaders at the Historic Ebenezer First Baptist Church on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016, in Atlanta.  Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Alabama head football coach Nick Saban and Washington head football coach Chris Petersen greet Ambassador Andrew Young (seated left) and the Rev. C.T. Vivian at the conclusion of a Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl tour of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site to hear first-hand accounts from the Civil Rights leaders at the Historic Ebenezer First Baptist Church on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

ExplorePersonal Journal: How Atlanta’s C.T. Vivian changed America

Vivian “was a strategic nonviolent leader, a brilliant mind who believed that soul force could overpower physical force,” said Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. “I’m thankful for his legacy of service and influence, including in my father’s life.”

In his statement about Vivian’s death, Obama, who also honored John Lewis and Joseph Lowery with Presidential Medals of Freedom, noted how Vivian was “always one of the first in the action,” who absorbed “blows in hopes that fewer of us would have to.”

“He waged nonviolent campaigns for integration across the South, and campaigns for economic justice throughout the north, knowing that even after the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act that he helped win, our long journey to equality was nowhere near finished,” Obama wrote.

ExplorePhoto Gallery: C.T. Vivian Through the Years

Working closely with him in Nashville and the early Freedom Rides, Lafayette had a special relationship with Vivian, secured as cellmates in dozens of jails throughout the South.

So Vivian’s death, Lafayette said, leaves another personal void. They always celebrated their birthdays — July 29 for Lafayette and July 30 for Vivian — together over lunch.

“I am going to miss that,” said Lafayette, 79. “I already bought his birthday card.”