Discipline common for civil rights | Remembering

Five years before his death last July at the age of 95, Rev. CT Vivian, a civil rights icon, strolled the halls of Macomb High School in the city of Illinois, where he spent most of his younger years.

“Without Macomb, Illinois, I would never have been who I was,” he told an audience on a previous visit in 2010. In 2013, he was honored with a Presidential Medal of Freedom. When he died, the New York Times named him “Field General” for Martin Luther King Jr.

Six-year-old Vivian was brought to Macomb across the Mississippi by his mother and grandmother in 1930 because they knew the city’s schools were integrated. He told his story with proud affection. “We lost everything in the global economic crisis and they wanted to protect what they still had,” he recalled and spoke of himself in 2010. “They wanted to leave Missouri because of segregation, so we came to Macomb because I could start first grade here and go all the way through college. ”

Cordy Tindell was shortened to CT for most of his life. He enrolled in Lincoln Grade School and went on to Macomb High. He is being recalled as an active student guide, including Spider Club membership, students who wrote for the yearbook. That success followed when he enrolled at what is now Western Illinois University, where he quickly earned the title of sports editor for The Western Courier. His line opposite was called “POPPIN ‘OFF”. Vivian left Western long before he graduated. Most reports state that racism played a role, particularly that a professor denied him membership in the English club on grounds of race. Decades later, the school awarded him a Bachelor of Arts.

Peoria became Vivian’s next home. He was the Leisure Director for the Carver Community Center (which will be 100 years old in 2020). In 1947 he led his first seated demonstrations and tried to integrate Barton’s cafeteria. It worked. Of course, the method became famous a dozen years later at Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Until 1955 Vivian studied Divinity at the American Baptist College in Nashville, Tennessee. There he met others who pioneered much of the modern US civil rights movement. He was at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference until 1963, where King appointed him National Director of Affiliates. His most public moment was in 1965 when he confronted County Sheriff Jim Clark on the steps of the courthouse in Selma, Alabama. Vivian spoke vigorously on behalf of people who were denied the right to vote. Then the burly sheriff broke his finger and landed a left round house in front of Vivian’s face, causing the slim protester to go down. “It was a clear commitment,” Vivian said later. “That meant movement.” Vivian’s work continued, including a few years ago in Illinois, where he organized in Chicago. He settled in Atlanta for the last decades of his life with his second wife, activist and author Octavia, until their death in 2011.

Macomb High School invited Vivian to return in 2015 to dedicate the school library in his honor. On October 1, students gathered in the Fellheim auditorium and listened to a 90-year-old civil rights soldier. The event was covered in detail by The McDonough County Voice reporter Lainie Steelman. “It started here,” Steelman quoted Vivian as saying. “I also learned that no matter what, you are better off facing the problem than ducking, lying, grinning.”

Patrick Twomey is Macomb’s headmaster. In an interview for the play, he recalled talking to Vivian on the phone while arranging the library’s dedication and being asked if he was related to John Twomey. In fact, John, now 97, is Patrick’s uncle. Vivian recalled an interview with Twomey, a miler on Western’s 1940s track team, when he was a sports editor. “They told me that this cross-country stuff was pretty rough,” begins Vivian’s “POPPIN ‘OFF” column of November 11, 1942. He marveled at Twomey and others who bare-legged endurance races in all weathers. He calls them “the Thinclads” and praises their endurance. In 2015 there was a reunion in this school auditorium after 72 years. As the superintendent recently described, “They hugged and hugged and hugged each other.”

Earlier this fall, the city of Macomb teamed up with civil rights officials to celebrate the little boy who came to town in 1930 and helped shape a nation. Mayor Mike Inman hosted two of Vivian’s daughters, Jo Ann Walker and Denise Morse, for the inauguration of the Vivian Homesite as a Historic Site of the State of Illinois and Macomb’s Sept. 26 proclamation as Rev. Dr. CT Vivian Day.

Vivian’s official private funeral took place in Atlanta on July 22nd. The day before, a horse-drawn carriage brought his remains past the royal tomb to the Georgia Capitol, where he was in the state.

Shortly thereafter, Barack Obama’s Springfield eulogy appeared on the front page of the monthly Pure News. “Today we have lost a founder of modern America,” the former president wrote, adding that the massive anti-rights protests of 2020 “have probably given the Reverend one last dose of hope before his long and well-deserved rest”.

Another moving tribute was instituted on a sultry Sunday in late July on one of the three vacant lots on East Adams Street that was supposedly the only part of Macomb’s African Americans who could live a century ago. Here was the modest house of the Vivian family, not far from a few railroad tracks. McDonough County’s NAACP worked with Alpha Phi Alpha, the country’s oldest black college fraternity, to dismantle a large open tent under old catalpa trees.

More than 100 aloof and masked mourners heard Western interim president Martin Abraham, Mayor Inman and others speak of Vivian’s importance locally and far beyond. Then a dozen dark-clad alpha-phi-alpha men, young and old, went to the microphone. Vivian was one of them, like King and many well-known black leaders. These current members gathered under tent shade for the Brotherhood’s Omega Service Rite. They prayed and spoke and eventually sang Vivian in a chapter reserved for all deceased brothers, the Omega Chapter.

They stopped singing these words:
Farewell, dear brother, you are transcendent
Your spirit will dwell with us now
We cherish your memory, we will revere your good name
To your honor, your honor, brother, dear.

Doug Kamholz from Springfield completed the Public Affairs Reporting program at Sangamon State University. He then sold works to the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, NPR, and many smaller media outlets. He had the privilege of interviewing the Dalai Lama, Gerald Ford and several civil rights icons, but not Rev. Vivian.

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