Cordy Tindell (C.T.) Vivian was born on July 30, 1924 in Howard County, Missouri. As a small boy he migrated with his mother to Macomb, Illinois, where he attended Lincoln Grade School and Edison Junior High. 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. He graduated from Western Illinois with a B.A. in Education.
C.T. Vivian’s first professional job was as a recreation director for the Carver Community Center in Peoria, Illinois. In 1947 Vivian lead his first sit-in demonstrations, which successfully integrated Peoria’s Barton’s Cafeteria, thereby winning his first non-violent, direct-action movement.
While studying for the ministry at American Baptist College in Nashville, Tennessee in 1959, Vivian met Rev. James Lawson, who was teaching Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent direct-action strategy to the Student Central Committee. Diane Nash, Bernard Lafayette, James Bevel, James Forman, John Lewis and other students from American Baptist College, Fisk University and Tennessee State University executed a systematic non-violent campaign for justice. On April 19, 1960, 4000 demonstrators marched on Nashville, Tennessee City Hall where C. T. Vivian and Diane Nash challenged Nashville Mayor Ben West on racial injustice in Nashville. As a result, Mayor West publicly agreed that racial discrimination was morally wrong.
In 1961, Vivian, now a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) participated in Freedom Rides. In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. named him National Director of Affiliates. In 1965 an incident that would make national news, Vivian confronted Sheriff Jim Clark on the steps of the Selma courthouse during a voter registration drive. The summer following the Selma Movement, Vivian developed, organized and launched VISION, an educational program that assisted over 700 Alabama Students with attending college on scholarship. VISION would later be known as Upward Bound.
Rev. Vivian, once known as a Christian journalist, is now best known for his work with Martin Luther King, Jr. As National Director of Affiliates and strategist for the southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) organization, he truly helped change the nation. In Birmingham, his work helped to enact the Civil Rights Bill and in Selma, the Voting Rights Bill. Vivian was also deeply involved in other movements including those in Danville, Virginia; St. Augustine, Florida; and Chicago, Illinois. In 1970, Vivian authored the first book written by a member of King’s staff entitled “Black Power and the American Myth”.
Rev. Vivian returned to the realm of seminary education as the Dean of Divinity at Shaw University Seminary. There, he originated and acquired funding for an unprecedented national level program which became the basis of his doctoral work; Seminary Without Walls.
Vivian’s many leadership roles included serving on the boards of the Center for Democratic Renewal and the National Voting Rights Museum. He founded BASIC Diversity, Inc. the nation’s oldest diversity consulting firm. He has provided civil rights counsel to Presidents Johnson, Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Obama. He has lectured on racial justice and democracy throughout the world.
The New School for Social Research named Vivian “…spiritual leader, apostle of social justice, strategist of the civil rights movement … for decades he has been in the vanguard of the struggle for racial equality in America.” The New School also presented him with one of five honorary degrees.
Rev. Vivian is featured throughout the PBS acclaimed documentary, Eyes on the Prize (1987-2006). PBS later produced a full-length presentation, The Healing Ministry of the Rev. Dr. C. T. Vivian. He is also featured as both an activist and analyst in the series The People’s Century (PBS/WGVH, 1998), and in the Tom Brokaw documentary, King (History Channel, 2008).
In 2007, then Senator Barack Obama spoke at historic Brown Chapel A.M.E. church in Selma, Alabama, recognizing and honoring Rev. C. T. Vivian by quoting the works of Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. Dr. King called Rev. Vivian “the greatest preacher to ever live.” Six years later; in November 2013, President Barack Obama, again honored Rev. Vivian for his vision and leadership in the fight for justice by awarding him with the Nation’s highest civilian honor – The Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In 2008, Rev. Vivian founded the C.T. Vivian Leadership Institute, Inc. to create a model of leadership and to train and educate the next generation of grassroots leaders inspired to mobilize a constituency. The Institute is based in Atlanta, Georgia.
CT Vivian VITA
Rev. C.T. Vivian’s image has been placed in:
• The Civil Rights Institute. Birmingham, Alabama
• The National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis. Tennessee
• The National Voting Rights Museum, Selma. Alabama
• Portrait Hall of Fame, M L. King Chapel; Morehouse College, Atlanta, GA
He has been highlighted in several books, two by Pulitzer Prize winners. Among them:
The Children, David Halberstam
Pillars of Fire, Taylor Branch
Bearing the Cross, David J. Garrow
Parting the Water, Taylor Branch
Race, Studs Terkel
Odyssey: Journey Through Black America, Earl & Mariam Selby
And by Civil Rights Persons:
My Life With Martin Luther King, Mrs. Coretta Scott King
And the Walls Came Tumbling Down, Rev. Ralph David Abernathy
Walking With the Wind, Congressman John Lewis
To Redeem The Soul of America, Adam Fairclough
And many other books by journalist, writers and biographers.
Featured in the Following Films:
P.B.S “The Healing Ministry of the Rev. C.T. Vivian”, was a full length film on
P.B.S. “The People Century”, a series on the 20th Century, films Dr. Vivian as
analyst and activist. It is a series on the critical issues of this Century.
P.B.S. “Eyes on the Prize”, a documentary on the Civil Rights Movement,
features Dr. Vivian three times as activist and analyst.
“From Montgomery to Memphis”, a full-length film on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
(The film of Dr. Vivian is said to be the best filmed illustration of non-violent direct action).
The Oprah Winfrey Show. Rev. Vivian was the first guest to be held over for a second
full day of filming due to public demand. Rev. Vivian has appeared on the show four times in total.
Founding Member/Board, Capitol City Bank and Trust Company. Atlanta, Georgia
Board, Atlanta’s Apex Museum, the African American museum of Atlanta, Georgia
Founder/ Board Chair, Center for Democratic Renewal, Atlanta, Georgia.
National Director of Affiliates, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Served on Dr. Martin Luther King’s Executive Staff throughout the movement years.
Founder/Dean, Alternative Education and National Director, Seminary Without Walls. Shaw University Divinity School, Raleigh, North Carolina. The alternative system of independent, off campus study offered the B.Th. and M. Div. Degrees. The educational delivery system was invented, designed and administered by the Director who personally gained funding for the concept through the Lilly Endowment and placed the experimental phases on the Shaw University Campus.
Founder/Director, Prototype of Upward Bound, statewide Alabama educational program. “Vision” conceived and organized by the director was the prototype of Upward Bound. The sixteen “Visions” centers prepared formerly unqualified students, found scholarships for them and placed over 700 teenagers in colleges across the nation. Sought. received and administered first government grant to a direct action organization.
Director, Ford Fellowship Program, Urban Training Center for Christian Mission, Chicago, Illinois. Trained clergy, community leaders and urban activists in methods, techniques and strategy development for the urban scene: administrator of Ford Foundation funds.
Founding Member/Coordinator/Executive Director, Coalition for United Community Action, Chicago, Illinois. The group of 61 Chicago black organizations that started the nations direct action Campaign against racism in the Building Trades Unions. It produced the best known of the urban plans The Chicago Plan. This action prompted the Chicago Building Trade Unions to sign a contract to train and place 20,000 Black youth in Chicago trades within a five year period. The Coalition was Chicago’s United Black Front.
Founding Member/President, A Black Center for Strategy and Community Development, Chicago, Illinois. The first African American Center doing strategic and tactical planning for African American urban community, under African American community control using African American experts.
Founding Member/Vice President, Nashville Christian Leadership Conference. Dr. Vivian led the first march of the Movement. The march of four thousand from Nashville city limits City Hall was the final action opening public accommodations and citizen participation to all African Americans. N C.L.C. organized the first Freedom Rides to enter Jackson, Mississippi. The Vice President and four other ministers were the first group of clergymen to ever be arrested for a direct action challenge to the system of segregation. This Jackson ride was the strategic move that led to the end of segregated bus travel in the nation.
Founder/Chairman, Black Action Strategies and Information Center (B.A.S.I.C.). Ran the consultancy for
24 years. His son, Albert Vivian, now President of B.A.S.I.C., has successfully run the firm for the
past 20 years.
INTERNATIONAL LECTURE AND CONSULTANT TOURS
He has been a speaker in 44 of the 50 states and in most U. S. cities and on four continents and
Africa month long odyssey into East and West Africa with an accent on Kenya and Liberia.
Later took agricultural experts to Kenya to help President Moi, and made trips in Ghana and Tanzania.
Israel Trips to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with accent on the Holy Land. First trip was as a business
Consultant to K.L.M., the national Dutch airlines.
Holland One week tour. The Christian Youth Council of the Netherlands invited and sponsored
a trip to Holland to speak to 25,000 youth to Queen Wilhelmina Hall in Utrecht and appear
on national television. Second trip across Holland was done on behalf ending the death penalty
for Amnesty International
Manila Consulted with the National Council of Churches in the Philippines on behalf of the
National Council of Churches USA
Brussels – Meeting with officials of the European Community on issues of human rights and the
Japan Nationwide six-week speaking tour. Selected by the Japanese Peace Council to deliver a
national series of speeches on peace and freedom.
Italy Week long speaking tour in Rome and the University of Bologna, the oldest university in Europe.
Australia National speaking tour on issues of Justice, Race and Peace.
Russia – Week long trip across much of the country starting and returning to Moscow.
Lebanon Peace trip visiting the President, Secretary of State, Arafat and factional leaders.
Cuba – Several speaking trips on non-violence.
Thailand – Speaker at the World Conference of Religious Leaders held in Bankok.
Medelin, Antigua Columbia, South America.
B.A. – Education, Western Illinois University
B.D. – Theology, American Baptist Theological Seminary
Union Graduate School, Union of Experimenting Colleges and Universities, Doctoral Program
Honorary – Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa
New School for Social Research, New York City
Western Illinois University, Macomb, Illinois
Shaw University, Raleigh, North Carolina
Morehouse College, Atlanta, Georgia
Morris Brown College, Atlanta, Georgia
Black Power and the American Myth. Fortress Press. A bestselling, non-fiction, social analysis
became an Ebony Book club selection which explained the dynamics-human and social- involved in the
Movement and the effects of strategy, history, and group pressures on the action/reaction/reflection
process of Black/White interaction.
Married to Octavia Geans Vivian (deceased) for 58 years. They raised six children and were grandparents to 6 grandchildren.