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Casket of civil rights activist C.T. Vivian lies in front of MLK’s Atlanta tomb

The casket of The Rev. C.T. Vivian was placed in front of the tomb of Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta Wednesday on the eve of his funeral. 

Mourners lined the streets and gathered outside the Georgia Capital as the body of the civil rights activist was taken by horse-drawn carriage along the historic Auburn Avenue to Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park. 

King and Vivian were close allies after they met 1955 as they both became prominent names in the civil rights movement. 

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

According to USA Today, Vivian is the first civilian Black man to lie in state at the Georgia Capitol.  

He died Friday at age 95 of natural causes. 

Ahead of a private burial ceremony on Thursday, mourners were given a final opportunity to march with Vivian as his body was taken to King’s crypt. 

The masked mourners carried pictures of Vivian and Martin Luther King Jr. as they gave him a final salute. 

As the casket was taken from the Georgia Capitol, it was placed for a moment of tribute beside the statue of his friend King before being transferred into the horse-drawn open carriage. 

The processional was led by a police motorcade.  

‘This is an ultimate honor,’ his son Mark Vivian said after a short ceremony in the Capitol’s rotunda. 

‘It’s just an honor that now more folks are learning who he is and what he stood for, and also what the movement was and how the movement came about.’

On the way, the casket stopped at the headquarters of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, where Vivian was the director of national affiliates in the 1960s and national president in 2012, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. 

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. 

King himself had not been allowed to lie in state when then-Gov. Lesater Maddox refused it following his 1968 assassination.    

‘As one of the foremost advocates for justice during the Civil Rights Movement and one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.´s most trusted friends and deputies, C.T. Vivian stood on the front lines of the fight for equality,’ Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said during Wednesday’s ceremony at the Capitol.

‘During one of the most turbulent times in our nation´s history, C.T. Vivian was steadfast and calm, grounded in the knowledge that he fought for something much bigger than the obstacle in front of him,’ Kemp added.

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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