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Farewell Rev. C.T. Vivian– we will miss your extraordinary spirit

Maria Saporta

By Maria Saporta

Another civil rights legend has left us.

Rev. Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian, 95, passed away Friday morning, according to Don Rivers, his close friend and business partner.

A close associate of Martin Luther King Jr., Vivian fought for the right to vote – serving as a civil rights organizer. During the 1960s, he served in leadership positions of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

In the 1970s, Vivian moved to Atlanta, where he founded the C.T. Vivian Leadership Institute. President Barack Obama awarded Vivian the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Aug. 8, 2013 for his decades of leadership fighting for social justice and civil rights.

Beyond all the accolades and his accomplishments, Vivian (July 30, 1924 – July 17, 2020) had one of the most endearing souls –always welcoming and warm. One of the last times I saw him was at last October’s grand opening of Tyler Perry Studios. Although he was in a wheelchair, Vivian clearly was enjoying all the fanfare of the evening.

Spending time with Vivian was always special – like the time we were all together on Tom Houck’s civil rights bus tour of Atlanta. We were surrounded by someone who literally had changed the world. Even when Vivian was talking about a serious issue, he would often add an optimistic footnote sealed by the twinkle in his eye.

Last year, I got to know his son – Al Vivian – during Leadership Atlanta’s intense “race weekend.” It was comforting to see how the Vivian legacy continues.

One of my favorite memories of him was at the ceremony following the unveiling of the Dominique Wilkins statue in front of Philips Arena (now State Farm Arena) on March 5, 2015.

There was a luncheon celebration on the floor of the arena, and I looked down on the festivities from the street-level concourse.

Towards the end of the event, I see Vivian running up the stairs – two at time – with a huge smile on his face. I marveled at his youthful prowess, defying his 90 years.

When I told him how impressed I was, he laughed and said: “You have to stay in shape.”

Vivian was a special spirit – one Atlanta and the nation will miss – especially during these troubled times.

Maria Saporta
Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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    Dianne Napier-Wilson July 21, 2020 2:18 pm

    Thank you for the wonderful tribute to Dr. Vivian. My high tech colleagues and I were honored to participate in Dr. Vivian’s diversity seminar in the nineties. His lessons were indelible. Dr. Vivian would not let me speak during the whole two days. At the end he asked me how that felt. So meaningful.
    Dr. Vivian described working in meat packing in Chicago. He said at the end of the day, he and his friends would shower and dress in their best clothes. They would walk by their supervisors sitting on the sidewalk drinking a beer still wearing their soiled clothes and bloody aprons.
    With that twinkle you mentioned, he said the prettiest thing he ever saw was a black woman in a red dress. His descriptions were always so vivid. I am just one of unknown thousands who will miss knowing he is on earth consoled by knowing he is in heaven.
    Best regards!
    Dianne

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