Rev. C.T. Vivian, colleague and friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., visited Gustavus Adolphus College on Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2010.
Vivian spoke to a crowd of nearly 1,000 people about his experiences during the civil rights movement and gave advice for future generations. Deeming King “the prophet of our age,” Vivian lectured about King’s leadership in the movement and the ways in which he practiced the love, truth, and justice that he preached.
“Martin had a method, and he was called to do what he was doing,” Vivian said. “He knew that the depth of America’s evil and sin was too deep . . . He began laying the moral and spiritual base on which we could move to become a better people.”
Vivian emphasized the fact that King had a doctorate in philosophical theology and that there was real intelligence behind everything he did and said.
He discussed King’s way of thinking: “He stood there with the Bible and the U.S. Constitution in front of America and asked ‘Who are you, America? Who are you?’. They answered him finally with a bullet.”
“What he did to reality was phenomenal,” Vivian said, adding that King challenged the way people look at themselves and others. “The difference between who you are and who you say you are is the level of your insanity and the depth of your depravity,” Vivian said.
When asked how he coped with fear and doubt during times of discrimination, Vivian responded that he wasn’t afraid because he knew things would get better. He shared a personal story of being beaten by white men because he didn’t say “Sir” and then being held at gunpoint by a prison guard.
Vivian’s resilience, positive attitude, and belief in faith and hope carried him through times of adversity. Now 86, Vivian encouraged all in attendance to know and understand that one person can make a difference. “Radical loving is needed to defeat radical evil,” Vivian said. “If you love the world enough, you’ll find a way.”
In the early 1960’s, Vivian participated in Freedom Rides and helped organize the first sit-ins in Nashville and the first civil rights march. He served with King as an executive staff member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In 1970 Vivian published the book Black Power and the American Myth—making him the first member of King’s staff to write a book about the civil rights movement. But he didn’t stop there.
He founded the Black Action Strategies and Information Center, a consultancy on multiculturalism and race relations in the workplace; co-founded the Center for Democratic Renewal, an organization where black and whites worked together in response to white supremacist activity; and founded the C.T. Vivian Leadership Institute, Inc. to create a model leadership culture in Atlanta.
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