The Rev. C.T. Vivian, a beloved civil rights veteran who marched alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., has died at his home in Atlanta, his loved ones said Friday. He was 95.
Vivian’s daughter, Denise Morse, confirmed her dad’s passing and told Atlanta’s NBC affiliate WXIA that he was “one of the most wonderful men who ever walked the earth.”
The civil rights titan suffered a stroke about two months ago but seemed to be on the mend before “he just stopped eating” and died of natural causes, friend and business partner Don Rivers said.
“He has always been one of the people who had the most insight, wisdom, integrity and dedication,” said former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, a contemporary of Vivian who also worked alongside King.
He was active in sit-in protests in Peoria, Illinois, in the 1940s, and first met King during the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott – a demonstration made famous by Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a white rider. The 13-month mass protest drew international attention.
Vivian went on to become an active early member of the group that eventually became the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Like King, Vivian was committed to the belief that nonviolent protests could carry the day.
“There must always be the understanding of what Martin had in mind for this organization,” Vivian said in a 2012 interview. “Nonviolent, direct action makes us successful. We learned how to solve social problems without violence. We cannot allow the nation or the world to ever forget that.”
President Barack Obama in 2013 honored Vivian with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. The pastor remained an advocate for justice and equality well into his advanced years.
Cordy Tindell Vivian was born July 28, 1924, in Howard County, Missouri., about halfway between Kansas City and St. Louis. But as a child, he moved to be with his mother in Macomb, Illinois, near the Iowa and Missouri borders.
He went on to study theology at American Baptist College in Nashville, Tennessee, where he organized some of that city’s first civil rights sit-ins.
Vivian later participated in the Freedom Rides in Mississippi and was a close ally of King’s, serving as the SCLC’s national director of affiliates.
Over the years, Vivian said he consulted with five presidents — Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Obama – on civil rights matters.
In 2008, Vivian founded his own C.T. Vivian Leadership Institute, which the group says is dedicated to creating “a model leadership culture for the purpose of training and educating the new generation of grassroots leaders.”
The Associated Press contributed.