“Nonviolence is the only honorable way of dealing with social change, because if we are wrong, nobody gets hurt but us. And if we are right, more people will participate in determining their own destinies than ever before.” Rev. C.T. Vivian, as quoted by Taylor Branch in At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years
These words epitomize the relationship between Cordy Tindell Vivian’s faith in Jesus and his commitment to nonviolent confrontation of unjust systems. They bring to mind Jesus’ rebuke of Peter when he resorted to violence upon the arrest of Jesus (John 10:10-11). Christ allowed himself to be hurt to the point of death to change our eternal destiny. C.T. Vivian, John Lewis, and countless others allowed themselves to be hurt to change the destiny of America.
Within days of each other, we lost two giants for justice: Reverend C.T. Vivian and Congressman John Lewis. Last week we honored the life of John Lewis. On this Freedom Friday, we join the Vivian family and a grateful nation in mourning C.T. Vivian’s death while celebrating his life and legacy.
Vivian was an example of a leader who didn’t see his commitment to the gospel as something separate from his commitment to pursue a just society. His legacy is rooted in a relentless faith and a tireless struggle against the sin of racism. Though Vivian, a Baptist minister, was vehemently against violence, he was often the victim of it. In 1961 during a freedom ride, he was confronted by a police officer, arrested, and then sent to the Hinds County Prison Farm where he was beaten by the guards. He had a near-death experience in 1964 during a protest in St. Augustine where a gang of whites beat black bathers with chains; he nearly drown. The following year, C.T. was struck in the face by Sheriff Jim Clark while attempting to register to vote in Selma. The images of Vivian knocked down the courthouse steps and bleeding helped galvanize the movement for voters rights.
Sadly, the road to racial righteousness in this country has been soaked with the blood of those who have called into question America’s declaration of “liberty and justice for all.” The narrative of our Civil Rights heroes is both revisionist and narrow. We choose to expand the narrative some are taught: one that only includes the work of heroes like Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks. We choose to honor additional heroes like C.T. Vivian, who lives within the great constellation of leaders whose collective efforts have helped create the foundation we now stand on. This work has seen undeniable progress, but it remains incomplete. The baton is being passed to a new generation of freedom fighters – us!
Here are a few ways you can join us in the fight for freedom this week:
- Watch our online event “Solidarity Is Calling“
- Read “The Color of Compromise“
- Host a book club to read “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” in community, using this reflection guide written by ECC pastors.
Until freedom means the same for all,
The LMDJ Team