Cordy Tindell Vivian, usually known as C. T. Vivian (born July 30, 1924), is a minister, author, and was a close friend and lieutenant of Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement. Vivian continues to reside in Atlanta, Georgia and most recently founded the C. T. Vivian Leadership Institute, Inc. He is a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. President Barack Obama, speaking at the occasion of the anniversary of Selma to Montgomery marches in March 2007 at Selma's Brown Chapel A.M.E., recognized Vivian in his opening remarks in the words of Martin L. King Jr. as "the greatest preacher to ever live.” On August 8, 2013, President Barack Obama named Vivian as a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The citation in the press release reads as follows:
C. T. Vivian is a distinguished minister, author, and organizer. A leader in the Civil Rights Movement and friend to Martin Luther King, Jr., he participated in Freedom Rides and sit-ins across our country. Vivian also helped found numerous civil rights organizations, including Vision, the National Anti-Klan Network, and the Center for Democratic Renewal. In 2012, he returned to serve as interim President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Vivian was born in Howard, Missouri. As a small boy he migrated with his mother to Macomb, Illinois, where he attended Lincoln Grade School and Edison Junior High School. Vivian graduated from Macomb High School in 1942 and went on to attend Western Illinois University in Macomb, where he worked as the sports editor for the school newspaper. His first professional job was recreation director for the Carver Community Center in Peoria, Illinois. There, Vivian participated in his first sit-in demonstrations, which successfully integrated Barton's Cafeteria in 1947.
Studying for the ministry at American Baptist College in Nashville, Tennessee in 1959, Vivian met James Lawson, who was teaching Mohandas Gandhi's nonviolent direct action strategy to the Nashville Student Movement. Soon Lawson's students, including Diane Nash, Bernard Lafayette, James Bevel, John Lewis and others from American Baptist, Fisk University and Tennessee State University, organized a systematic nonviolent sit-in campaign. On April 19, 1960, 4,000 demonstrators marched on City Hall where Vivian and Diane Nash challenged Nashville Mayor Ben West. As a result, Mayor West publicly agreed that racial discrimination was morally wrong. Many of the students who participated in the Nashville Student Movement soon took on major leadership roles in both the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
Vivian wrote Black Power and the American Myth in 1970, a book about the failings of the Civil Rights Movement. The book was published by Fortress Press of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The telling prophetic citing of an ongoing challenge between Christians and Muslims judges the previous generation's negligence on working toward peace. "Christians and Muslims can find common ground in the necessity to create new alternatives. Anyone who starts to struggle at any place can go all the way to achieve the changes all desire." (p. 125.)
Work with Martin Luther King and SCLC
In 1961, Vivian, now a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) participated in Freedom Rides replacing injured members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).
He helped found the Nashville Christian Leadership Conference, and helped organize the first sit-ins in Nashville in 1960 and the first civil rights march in 1961. Vivian rode the first "Freedom Bus" into Jackson, Mississippi, and went on to work alongside Martin Luther King Jr., James Bevel, Diane Nash, and others on SCLC's Executive Staff in Birmingham, Selma, Chicago, Nashville, the March on Washington; Danville, Virginia, and St. Augustine, Florida. Some claim that the St. Augustine campaign helped lead to the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Vivian's role in it was honored when he returned to the city in 2008 to dedicate a Freedom Trail of historic sites of the Civil Rights Movement.
During the summer following the Selma Voting Rights Movement, Vivian conceived and directed an educational program, Vision, and put 702 Alabama students in college with scholarships (this program later became Upward Bound). His 1970 Black Power and the American Myth was the first book on the Civil Rights Movement by a member of Martin Luther King's staff.
In the 1970s Vivian moved to Atlanta, and in 1977 founded the Black Action Strategies and Information Center (BASICS), a consultancy on multiculturalism and race relations in the workplace and other contexts. In 1979 he co-founded, with Anne Braden, the Center for Democratic Renewal (initially as the National Anti-Klan Network), an organization where blacks and whites worked together in response to white supremacist activity. In 1984 he served in Jesse Jackson's presidential campaign, as the national deputy director for clergy. In 1994 he helped to establish, and served on the board of Capitol City Bank and Trust Co., a black-owned Atlanta bank. He serves currently on the board of Every Church a Peace Church.
Vivian continues to speak publicly and offer workshops, and has done so at many conferences around the country and the world, including with the United Nations. He was featured as an activist and an analyst in the civil rights documentary, Eyes on the Prize, and has been featured in a PBS special, The Healing Ministry of Dr. C. T. Vivian. He has made numerous appearances on Oprah as well as the Montel Williams Show and Donahue. He is the focus of the biography, Challenge and Change by Lydia Walker.
In 2008, Vivian founded and incorporated the C. T. Vivian Leadership Institute, Inc. (CTVLI) to "Create a Model Leadership Culture in Atlanta" Georgia. The C. T. Vivian Leadership Institute conceived, developed and implemented the "Yes, We Care" campaign on December 18, 2008 (four days after the City of Atlanta turned the water off at Morris Brown College [MBC]) and, over a period of two and a half months, mobilized the Atlanta community to donate in excess of $500,000 directly to Morris Brown as "bridge funding." This effort literally saved this Historically Black College University (HBCU) which was founded in 1881 and allowed the college to negotiate with the City which ultimately restored the water services to the college. Additionally, this strategic campaign gave impetus to MBC to expand and renew its donor base.
Subsequent to the Morris Brown campaign, Vivian began discussions with Mosaica Educational Systems which ultimately lead to a partnership with the Atlanta Preparatory Academy (APA) an innovative charter school based in Atlanta at the historic Jordan Hall facility.