Octavia Geans Vivian – 1928 – 2011
Willie Octavia Geans was born in Pontiac, Michigan on February 23, 1928’ the second child and only daughter of Leslie and Alvier Geans. In her early teen years Octavia became editor of Pontiac’s African-American newspaper as a high school sophomore. During the summers she wrote articles for civil rights legend Mrs. Daisy Bates’ newspaper in Little Rock, Arkansas. She was an active youth leader in church and civic activities.
Octavia attended Eastern Michigan University where she became a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sorority, Inc. In 1951, after graduating with a degree in Social Work she begged her father to allow her to live with her favorite Cousin, Essie Bruce, in Dayton Ohio. There she applied for work through the Urban League and found employment at the DeSota Bass Courts Housing Project as a secretary. The Urban League, recognizing that Octavia was excellent at passing employment exams, asked her to apply for employment with companies having a history of not employing African-Americans.
In 1951 Octavia took a position as the Women’s and Girl’s Supervisor for the George Washington Carver Community Center. Soon after she met a young man named C. T. Vivian. He escorted Octavia on their first date on her birthday, and they married on her birthday one year later in 1952. Octavia then became a wonderful step-mother to Jo Anna Vivian. Octavia and C.T. were married for 58 years and produced six children: Denise (Morse), Cordy Jr. (deceased), Kira, Mark Evans, Anita Charisse (Thornton), and Albert Louis Vivian.
The Vivian’s first moved to Atlanta, Georgia when C. T. joined the Executive Staff of Dr. Martin L. King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). While C. T. traveled the South organizing marches and movements against racial discrimination and injustice, Octavia worked tirelessly to end racial segregation in DeKalb County Public Schools. She also became one of the first African-American Deputy Voter Registrars in DeKalb County, Georgia. Octavia organized women and mothers of the greater neighborhood to end one principal’s efforts to segregate the elementary school from within.
During the movement, Octavia took the lead in collecting and organizing documents that detailed the history of S.C.L.C. and the American Civil Rights Movement. In 1970, Octavia authored and published Coretta, the first biography of Coretta Scott King. She revised and re-published a memorial edition of Coretta upon Mrs. King’s death in 2006. The book has been published in several languages.
Due to her tireless work during the Movement, Coretta King asked Octavia to assist her with the difficult task of establishing the Martin Luther King Jr. Center. Mrs. Vivian worked with Mrs. King daily for several months in the center’s first location at the Interdenominational Theological Center (I.T.C.) in Atlanta. She spent several years working in the Public Relations Department at Morris Brown College.
Octavia was a loving, strong and spiritual woman who assisted and supported C.T. on his journey to gain freedom for African-Americans across this country. Together they spent years traveling the country by automobile visiting private book stores to build their joint impressive library of thousands of African-American authored books. She trusted and loved God, and she believed her mission in life was forged by His design. She passed away on May 2, 2011