‘It’s Within the Motion’: C.T. Vivian Memoir Tells Story of Civil Rights Activist | Chicago Information

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. named Minister and fellow citizen pioneer Dr. CT Vivian as “the greatest preacher who ever lived”. But long before working with King and other activists across the country, Vivian participated in non-violent protests in Illinois, beginning with a seated demonstration in 1947 at Bishop’s Cafeteria in Peoria.

Vivian died in 2020 at the age of 95 when he was about to complete his memoir and co-author Steve Fiffer had to finish the book.

The result of their collaboration is this month’s Black Voices Book Club selection: “It’s in Action: Memories of a Nonviolent Warrior.”

Fiffer remembered first meeting Vivian while researching another civil rights history book that focused on the struggle for suffrage in Alabama: “Jimmy Lee and James: Two Lives, Two Deaths, and That Movement that changed America. “

“Dr. Vivian was in Selma at the time, 1965, and very involved in that movement, and I wanted to interview him for the book,” said Fiffer. “I called him and we had a nice correspondence, and when I found out that here was this man, 90 years old, he was involved in almost every stop on the civil rights path and hadn’t written a book about his activities. I said you have to write a memoir and we walked back and forth for a while and finally decided to work together. “

Fiffer said it was difficult to continue working on the book after Vivian’s death – archival material allowed him to complete the memoir – but that wasn’t the only challenge he faced.

Martin Luther King Jr. called him the greatest preacher who ever lived. Channeling that voice is pretty daunting for anyone, ”he said.

In 2013 Vivian was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former President Barack Obama, who said he belongs to the generation of people who were inspired by Vivian. According to Fiffer, Vivian had a “very weak point in his heart” for Obama, partly due to an incident in 2007 when then-candidate Obama gave a speech in Selma.

“Obama had a list of all the dignitaries who were in the audience to hear him. But dr. Vivian’s name wasn’t on that list. And Obama had looked and said, “There is one person who is not on this list. I can see him out there in the crowd, without him we wouldn’t be there. And that’s Reverend C T. Vivian, whom Martin Luther King called the greatest preacher who ever lived. ‘And Dr. Vivian said he actually had tears in his eyes when candidate Obama recognized him. “

Fiffer hopes the book will cement Vivian’s work and legacy in the pantheon of civil rights pioneers.

“DR. Vivian was all about the action and he was always busy and always doing something like Obama said after the movement,” said Fiffer. “He fought white supremacy long before it got popular. And I think that he was just so busy and a very humble man too, that he just didn’t have the time or thought he was somehow worth doing a memoir and it couldn’t be further from the truth really important book to inspire a whole new generation of people to be active. “

Below is an excerpt from “It’s In Action: Memories of a Nonviolent Warrior” by CT Vivian with Steve Fiffer.

Civil rights legend CT Vivian, referred to by Martin Luther King Jr. as “the greatest preacher of all time,” credited his maternal grandmother, Annie Woods Tindell, for emphasizing the importance of education and teaching him to read before going to school Age was. In this passage he writes about how she introduced him to the Church at the same time.

Religion was just as important to my grandmother as education. My own sense of faith arose when I took her to the Church of God Christ in Boonville. I loved the Church from the beginning. How much? One Sunday when I was five years old, my grandmother told me I had to stay home from the service. I was so disappointed that I ran out of the house and was on the street in a rut. I’d let the cars roll over me if I couldn’t go to church.

Why such a passion? There was more life going on with God the Christ than in any other place. There were all kinds of people – at least all kinds of black people; The church, like almost everything else in town, was separate. Our church sang loud and clear and didn’t mind letting you know. They were witnesses. It was different and more engaging than anything I’d experienced. I don’t think you can understand African American history without talking about religious life. In fact, I don’t think you can understand an enslaved group without talking about belief in God. Case in point: Moses and the Jewish people.

When you have a grandmother as religious as mine, you know you are being cared for. And most of the people in the African American community had our beliefs. We believed that somehow God would take care of us. We had to believe – because there certainly wasn’t much else in the country that said we should survive. Even though America was a democracy, we knew it wasn’t a democracy for us. It was supposed to be a Christian culture, but it wasn’t.

Ironically, the saving grace for us was that blacks and whites weren’t in the same church. With a few exceptions, the whites did not want us to pray with them. And for the southern whites in particular, the church was not really God’s, it was theirs. Through our own churches, we could have our faith without people who opposed the movement telling us to obey them. Regardless of our particular denominations, we all became one faith. We were Christians and it was God who would save us from the dire conditions we endured. It is no surprise that the leadership in the civil rights movement came from within the Church.

Comments are closed.