For C.T. Vivian, being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom isn’t about recognition for what he has done so far, but about the good that he can still do.
The 89-year-old Atlanta resident, who currently serves as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Coalition, was informed that he would be given the nation’s highest honor for a civilian early this week. But rather than reflect on a life of accomplishment and honor, the civil rights legend chose to look forward to the greater positive impact the award could bring about.
“I was thankful. I was just thankful, because here’s the thing, I know how much good you can do with that,” Vivian told the Daily World. “Programs and ideas that I’ve wanted to do in order to push things ahead and make things better [could be done]. But it’s so difficult, number one, to get attention and difficult to raise money.”
Among the good works Vivian wants to focus on are the nation’s high dropout rate, particularly for African-American students; creating a C.T. and Octavia Vivian library to share the archives of he and his wife; and working for social justice. Vivian spoke specifically about the importance of education in light of what he called a “racist culture.”
“We’re living in a global world where education becomes even more valuable now than ever,” he said. “And here we are, this is what W.E.B. DuBois called the coalition of people trying to function within a racist culture where a child can be murdered and they don’t even pick up the white guy that murdered him for over a month, about a month and a half really. I’ve had a program for that.”
Vivian was honored with the award along with 15 others, including television superstar Oprah Winfrey. The White House and President Barack Obama made the announcement at 3 p.m. yesterday and Vivian says his phone has not stopped ringing since.
“Of course Oprah Winfrey’s name is going to be above ours, but that makes the point is that when you are receiving an honor with people like that it makes it easier to get things done,” he said, “more people know about what you’re doing and what you’re thinking and who you are and what your past has been, so they can trust you and move forward on the things that you’re trying to do. This is what was on my mind.”
A longtime member of the SCLC and a lieutenant of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Vivian was a leader in the push for nonviolence and civil rights in the U.S. He was a member of the Freedom Riders and helped organize numerous sit-ins, most notably the Nashville Movement, and pushed for justice and racial equality alongside King and leaders from the Congress of Racial Equality, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and other luminary organizations.
In a press release, the White House honored Vivian with a caption that read:
“C.T. Vivian is a distinguished minister, author, and organizer. A leader in the Civil Rights Movement and friend to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he participated in Freedom Rides and sit-ins across our country. Dr. Vivian also helped found numerous civil rights organizations, including Vision, the National Anti-Klan Network, and the Center for Democratic Renewal. In 2012, he returned to serve as interim President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”
Vivian also founded and led several other civil rights organizations, including Vision, the National Anti-Klan Network, the Center of Democratic Renewal, and Black Action Strategies and Information Center (BASIC). He is an author, minister and as SCLC’s current president remains active in civil rights activities around the nation.
(Photo: Dr. CT Vivian at E3 Creative in Atlanta recording interviews for 50th anniversary of March on Washington. Photo by Alexis Scott)