C.T. Vivian Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom
November 21, 2013
MACOMB, IL -- Former Macomb resident and Western Illinois University student and honorary doctorate recipient C.T. Vivian was among 16 individuals recognized Nov. 20 with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
President Barack Obama presented Vivian with a medal during a ceremony at the White House. The Presidential Medal of Freedom, established 50 years ago by John F. Kennedy, is the nation's highest civilian honor. The medal has been presented to more than 500 individuals who have made especially "meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."
"We salute pioneers who pushed our nation towards greater justice and equality. A Baptist minister, C.T. Vivian was one of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s closest advisers. The Rev. Vivian was among the first to be in the action: In 1947, joining a sit-in to integrate an Illinois restaurant; one of the first Freedom Riders; in Selma, on the courthouse steps to register blacks to vote, for which he was beaten, bloodied and jailed," said President Obama during the ceremony. "Rosa Parks said of him, 'Even after things had supposedly been taken care of and we had our rights, he was still out there, inspiring the next generation, including me,' helping kids go to college with a program that would become Upward Bound. And at 89 years old, the Rev. Vivian is still out there, still in the action, pushing us closer to our founding ideals."
Vivian, a distinguished, author, organizer and civil rights icon, graduated from Macomb High School in 1942 and went on to attend Western Illinois University, where he worked as the sports editor for the student newspaper. His career as an activist began in Peoria (IL), where he participated in his first sit-in demonstrations, which successfully integrated Barton's Cafeteria in 1947.
Well-known for his participation in the movements against discrimination in the South, Vivian founded the Black Action Strategies and Information Center and launched Churches Supporting Churches. He was appointed to the executive staff of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1963, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., named him national director of affiliates.
"I never would have been who I was if not for Macomb, Illinois," he said during a presentation at WIU in September 2010. "We'd lost everything in the Great Depression, and they wanted to protect the one thing they still had [their child]. They wanted to leave Missouri because of segregation, so we came to Macomb because I could start first grade here and go all the way through college."
Vivian received an honorary doctorate from Western Illinois University in 1987.
"We are greatly honored to have Dr. Vivian as a lasting symbol of the heights that one can achieve after study at Western Illinois University," said WIU President Jack Thomas. "His dignity, class, and grace are the embodiment of how we want our students and graduates to conduct themselves. We offer our most sincere congratulations to this kind, wise and gentle warrior for receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom."
Vivian now serves as the director of the Urban Theological Institute at Atlanta's Interdenominational Theological Center, a consortium of African-American seminaries, and as board chair of Capitol City Bank, a minority-owned bank with branches in eight locations in Georgia. Through his C.T. Vivian Leadership Institute, he fosters innovative leadership and career development for at-risk youth and college graduates.