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C.T. Vivian, civil rights hero and former field general for Martin Luther King Jr, dies at 95

Presidential Medal of Freedom honorees Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian speaks at the annual MLK City-County Celebration in January of 2012. (Photo by A. David Dahmer)

The Rev. Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian, a longtime civil rights activist who served as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s field general during the Civil Rights Movement, has died at the age of 95, his family said on Friday.

Former President Barack Obama awarded Vivian the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, in 2013.

One of Martin Luther King Jr.‘s most valuable lieutenants, Vivian helped organize the Freedom Rides that rode interstate buses into the segregated south and trained waves of activists in non-violent protest. Vivian was the national director for 85 local affiliate chapters of the King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference from 1963 to 1966 and later returned to serve as interim president in 2012.

In 2008, he founded the C.T. Vivian Leadership Institute to create a model leadership culture based in Atlanta, with a focus on empowerment training through education.

Vivian, who passed away just 13 days shy of his 96th birthday, was the keynote speaker at the 27th Annual City-County King Holiday Observance held in the Overture Center’s Capitol Theater in downtown Madison on Jan. 16, 2012.


Vivian died at home in Atlanta of natural causes Friday morning. His family said in a Facebook post (above) on Friday morning that they were certainly hurt, but that they are immensely proud of the life he lived.

 “A life marked by courage, conviction, and humility that pushed this nation closer to its ideals of liberty and equality. I encourage everyone to share your stories, mourn his loss, smile about the good times, celebrate his accomplishments, but most importantly honor his legacy,” Vivian’s family said. “Don’t be silent when you see injustice and don’t be passive when it comes to your rights. C.T. Vivian was threatened, beaten, and arrested to ensure every American’s right to vote. He is at peace in heaven, but there is still work to be done; as he always said, ‘it’s in the action’!”