Civil rights icon C.T. Vivian will be laid to rest today in Atlanta

Published: Jul. 23, 2020 at 4:22 AM EDT
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ATLANTA (WRDW/WAGT) - Civil rights icon the Rev. C.T. Vivian will be remembered today in a private funeral service at 11 a.m. at Providence Missionary Baptist Church.

He died at the age of 95 on Friday, the same day as fellow civil rights leader Congressman John Lewis.

On Wednesday, a viewing and ceremony was held in the rotunda of the state Capitol, making Vivian the first black civilian to lie in state in Georgia.

A horse-drawn carriage then took his casket on a procession through the city, ending at the tomb of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

During a ceremony, Vivian was remembered as an inspiration.

“From the first sit-ins at lunch counters to freedom rides to facing down segregationists on the steps of the courthouse in Selma ... Dr. Vivian’s story and impact is nothing short than inspiring,” Gov. Brian Kemp said.

The Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley said: “This was a man that proved good people don’t finish last. He was one that had an infectious smile, but it never ended with a smile. It always turned into a laugh. He recruited you into the C.T. Vivian camp.”

Vivian worked closely with King and was awarded the Medal of Freedom in 2013 by then-President Barack Obama.

Vivian began staging sit-ins against segregation in Peoria, Ill., in the 1940s — a dozen years before lunch-counter protests by college students made national news. He met King soon after the budding civil rights leader’s leadership of the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, and helped translate ideas into action by organizing the Freedom Rides that forced federal intervention across the South.

Vivian boldly challenged a segregationist sheriff while trying to register Black voters in Selma, Ala., where hundreds, then thousands, later marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

“You can turn your back now and you can keep your club in your hand, but you cannot beat down justice. And we will register to vote because as citizens of these United States we have the right to do it,” Vivian declared, wagging his index finger at Sheriff Jim Clark as the cameras rolled.

The sheriff then punched him, and news coverage of the assault helped turned a local registration drive into a national phenomenon.

He died at the age of 95 on Friday, the same day as fellow civil rights leader Congressman John Lewis.

The Associated Press contributed to this report