Civil Rights icon, C.T. Vivian dead at 95; remembered as a mentor

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — On Friday, civil rights icon and activist, Rev. C.T. Vivian passed away at age 95 in his Atlanta home.

Before he rose to national prominence, Vivian got his start in Central Illinois. Vivian graduated from Macomb High School in 1942 and then attended Western Illinois University in Macomb.

Interim President of WIU, Martin Abraham said in a press release the university will continue to honor the civil rights icon.

“It was a great honor and privilege to have had this renowned champion of Civil Rights and social justice as a member of our WIU and Macomb communities,” Abraham said. “His legacy will continue, and we will honor and memorialize the Rev. Dr. Vivian through our work to ensure social justice on our campuses and in our communities.”

Upon graduation from Western Illinois, Vivian got his start in activism in Peoria where he performed his first sit-in demonstration. Vivian also worked as a counselor at the George Washington Carver Community Center at 710 West Percy Baker Jr. Ave. in Peoria.

FILE – In this Jan. 27, 2007, file photo, C.T. Vivian uses an intercom with Rev. James Lawson on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., to discuss the experiences they encountered in 1961 as Freedom Riders, a group of college students who defied segregation on interstate buses across the American South. The Rev. Vivian, a civil rights veteran who worked alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and served as head of the organization co-founded by the civil rights icon, has died at home in Atlanta of natural causes Friday morning, July 17, 2020 his friend and business partner Don Rivers confirmed to The Associated Press. Vivian was 95. (Lavondia Majors/The Tennessean via AP)

Don Jackson, a local family law attorney and former NAACP president, met Vivian while growing up in Peoria. Jackson said he considers the reverend a close, personal friend.

“He was just the epitome of everything you should do right in the community and in life itself,” Jackson said. “We all learned valuable lessons from him and his co-workers at the time.”

Jackson said Vivian dedicated his life to civil rights of all people regardless of race, creed or the color of their skin.

“He constantly preached on the injustices of this community and this country as it dealt with African-Americans in this world,” Jackson said. “He was never afraid to speak truth to power and he always fought for equal rights for the disadvantaged in our community.”

Jackson said young people need to remember C.T. Vivian for his dedication to fighting for civil rights alongside icons like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“He shall always be remembered. If there’s a person in this community who needs his own statue, it’s C.T. Vivian,” Jackson said. “I think young people should know about his legacy. They need to teach the legacy of African Americans like C.T. Vivian so young people understand people that sacrificed their lives.”

In 2013, President Obama bestowed Vivian with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his life’s work in civil rights.

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