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C.T. Vivian remembered at Georgia Capitol ahead of funeral

On the eve of his funeral, a horse-drawn carriage will take The Rev. C.T. Vivian’s casket to Martin Luther King Jr.’s tomb in Atlanta on Wednesday.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, Sen. Nikema Williams and other local politicians joined mourners to pay their respects for the respected civil rights activist as his body lay in state in the rotunda of the Georgia Capitol.

After mourners have paid their respects the carriage will take his coffin to the front of King’s crypt tomb located in Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park. 

Vivian died Friday at age 95.

More than a decade before lunch-counter protests made headlines during the Civil Rights movement, Vivian began organizing sit-ins against segregation in Peoria, Illinois, in the 1940s.

He met King soon after the budding civil rights leader’s victory in the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott.  

Vivian helped organize the Freedom Rides to integrate buses across the South and trained waves of activists in non-violent protest. 

It was Vivian’s bold challenge of a segregationist sheriff while trying to register black voters in Selma, Alabama, that sparked hundreds, then thousands, to march across the Edmund Pettus bridge.

‘He has always been one of the people who had the most insight, wisdom, integrity and dedication,’ said Andrew Young, who also worked alongside King.

Cordy Tindell Vivian was born July 28, 1924, in Howard County, Mo., but moved to Macomb, Ill., with his mother when he was still a young boy.

As a young theology student at the American Baptist College in Nashville, Vivian helped organize that city’s first sit-ins. Under King’s leadership at SCLC, Vivian was national director of affiliates, traveling around the South to register voters. 

In 1965 in Selma, he was met on the Dallas County courthouse by Sheriff Jim Clark, who listened as Vivian argued for voting rights, and then punched him in the mouth.

Vivian stood back up and kept talking as the cameras rolled before he was stitched up and jailed. His mistreatment, seen on national television, eventually drew thousands of protesters, whose determination to march from Selma to Montgomery pressured Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act later that year.

Vivian continued to serve in the SCLC after King’s assassination in 1968, and became its interim president in 2012, lending renewed credibility and a tangible link to the civil rights era after the SCLC stagnated for years due to financial mismanagement and infighting.

Vivian was honored by former President Barack Obama with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

Vivian ‘was always one of the first in the action – a Freedom Rider, a marcher in Selma, beaten, jailed, almost killed, absorbing blows in hopes that fewer of us would have to,’ Obama said in a statement shortly after his death.

A private funeral is set for Thursday at Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta.

He is survived by four daughters and two sons, along with several grandchildren. Vivian’s wife died in 2011, AJC reports.  

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