Cordy T. Vivian, former chaplain and dean of the Divinity School at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, and an icon of the civil rights movement died at his home in Atlanta on July 17. He was 95 years old.
A native of Missouri, Vivian grew up in Macomb, Illinois. In 1947, he participated in his first civil rights demonstration calling for the desegregation of local restaurants. While a student at American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, he became involved with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Vivian also participated in the Freedom Rides.
Rev. Vivian later became the national director of affiliates for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and became a key member of Martin Luther King Jr.’s inner circle. In 1965, he traveled to Selma, Alabama, to participate in a voting rights demonstration on the steps of the courthouse. There, Dallas County Sheriff punched Vivian in the mouth and knocked him down and gave him a cut requiring 11 stitches. Vivian got up and continue to give his speech. “We’re willing to be beaten for democracy,” Vivian said.
In 1977, Vivian founded the Black Action Strategies and Information Center, a consultancy on multiculturalism and race relations in the workplace. He founded the C.T. Vivian Leadership Institute, Inc. in 2008 to “create a model leadership culture for the purpose of training and educating a new generation of grass-roots leaders to mobilize a constituency.”
In 2013, Vivian was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama.