The “greatest preacher to ever live” has been a man of vision, leadership, activism
IN 2007, SENATOR BARACK OBAMA spoke at historic Brown Chapel A.M.E. church in Selma, Alabama, recognizing and honoring Dr. C.T. Vivian by quoting the words of Dr. Martin L. King Jr., who called Vivian “the greatest preacher to ever live.” Six years later, in November 2013, President Barack Obama, again honored Dr. C.T. Vivian for his vision and leadership in the fight for justice by awarding him with the Nation’s highest civilian honor – The Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Vivian, once known as a Christian journalist, is best known for his work with Martin Luther King, Jr. As National Director of Affiliates and strategist for every Southern Christian Leadership Conference (S.C.L.C.) organization, he truly helped change the nation. In Birmingham, his work helped to enact the Civil Rights Bill, and in Selma, the Voting Rights Bill. Vivian was deeply involved in other movements including those in Nashville, TN; Danville, VA; St. Augustine, FL; and Chicago, IL. Vivian won his first non-violent direct action movement in 1947 by integrating restaurants in Peoria, IL. The summer following the Selma Movement, Vivian developed, organized, and launched Vision, an educational program that assisted over 700 Alabama students to attend college on scholarship. Vision would later be known as Upward Bound. In 1970, Vivian authored the first book written by a member of King’s staff entitled Black Power and the American Myth.
After leaving Dr. King’s Executive Staff, Vivian trained ministers and developed the urban curriculum for seminaries throughout the nation at the Urban Training Center in Chicago. He returned to the realm of seminary education as the Dean of Divinity at Shaw University Seminary. There, he originated and acquired funding for an unprecedented national level program, the basis of his doctoral work, Seminary Without Walls.
Vivian’s many leadership roles include serving on the boards of the Center for Democratic Renewal and the National Voting Rights Museum, and was the Board Chair of BASIC Diversity, Inc., the nation’s oldest diversity consulting firm. He has provided civil rights counsel to Presidents Johnson, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and Obama, and has lectured on racial justice and democracy throughout the world.
The New School for Social Research named Vivian “… spiritual leader, apostle of social justice, strategist of the civil rights movement … For decades he has been in the vanguard of the struggle for racial equality in America,” as they presented him with one of his many honorary doctorates.
Vivian is featured throughout PBS’s acclaimed documentary, “Eyes On the Prize” (1987 & 2006). PBS later produced a full-length presentation, “The Healing Ministry of the Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian.” He is also featured as both an activist and analyst in the series The People’s Century (PBS/WGBH, 1998), and in the Tom Brokaw documentary, “King” (History Channel, 2008).
In 2008, Vivian founded the C.T. Vivian Leadership Institute, Inc. to create a model leadership culture for the purpose of training and educating the next generation of grass-roots leaders inspired to mobilize a constituency. The Institute is based out of Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Vivian received an Honorary Doctorate from Morehouse College (2010), served as National President of S.C.L.C. (2012), and most recently served as Dean of The Urban Institute at The Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, GA.