Book Excerpt: My C. T. Vivian Story
A Powerful Flame That Burned Brightly
I called him “Doc.” He called me “Brother Harvey.” In public, he introduced me as “Michael Harvey, my neighbor.” He wanted his friends and associates to know that he and I were neighbors. As if to say, you may know Michael Harvey, the professional, but I know him as a neighbor. His introductions always brought a smile to the corners of my lips.
Watching Vivian on television maneuver a southern sheriff into an act of violence caused me to want to know more about this man, but he seemed to fade from public view. Vivian stayed away from the camera for most of his life. The giants of the civil rights movement in full view were Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, Jr., Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, Ambassador Andrew Young, Congressperson John Lewis, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Julian Bond, Rev. Hosea Williams, and Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Vivian was in the trenches with them shaping the rugged journey up to the mountain top, and over it, scaling down towards the promised land after the assassination of Dr. King. Vivian, to use a sports analogy, is perhaps the “most underrated” freedom fighter who has ever spoken truth to power. We can even go back to 1839 when Joseph Cinque, commandeered the Amistad in the Atlantic Ocean. And, coming aground at Long Island, New York, tested for the first time the nation’s resolve to provide justice for all.
Surely, Vivian belongs among the distinguished group of freedom fighters Cinque, Attucks, Delany, Tubman, Truth, Douglass, Washington, DuBois, Garvey, King, Abernathy, Lowery, Young, Lewis, Shuttlesworth, Bond, (Coretta) Scott King, Baker, Hamer, Williams, Parks, Chisholm, Jackson, X, Obama, and (Kamala) Harris. In death, the news of his transition bumped from the news cycle in less than 24 hours. Another news story displaced news of his transition. His comrade in so many battles, John Lewis, had transitioned too.
Two days after Vivian bid us adieu, the CBS Sunday Morning program featured a full-length installment on Lewis’ days as a civil rights fighter and congressman. Vivian’s name as fate would have it, listed at the end of the program in a list of other Americans who died that week.
On that same day, an Atlanta television news station presented a documentary on the lives of Joseph Lowery, C. T. Vivian, and John Lewis, because they left us within four months of each other in the year of the 2020 pandemic. And there was Vivian, as in life, in the time of significant change and transition overshadowed by the light of other men with whom he shared a sacred history.
I am sure, he chuckled that laugh of his, smiled, pointed his right index finger as he was wont to do, and was happy to see Lowery and Lewis receive the honor and praise due them. Vivian was a doer, a thinker, a behind the scenes operative who could be counted upon to take care of business.
“It’s all in the action,” he often said. He could spin a pun so tight it would discombobulate your mind trying to figure out what he had just expressed to you.
Like the pun, he spun at Clark on those courthouse steps. Vivian knew Clark thought of himself as the meanest white supremacist in Alabama. Cunningly, Vivian told Clark, that in fact, he was a weak white supremacist. That no one would dare mention his name in the same breath with the disgustingly vile Hitler.
That pun, spoken at that moment, was more potent than the punch thrown by Clark into Vivian’s jaw. That pun set into motion a whirlwind of events culminating at summer’s end with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
From “My C. T. Vivian Story: A Powerful Flame That Burned Brightly, Copyright © 2020, all rights reserved. For further details see haroldmichaelharvey.com
Harold Michael Harvey is the Living Now 2020 Bronze Medal winner for his memoir Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance. He is the author of a book on Negro Leagues Baseball, The Duke of 18th & Vine: Bob Kendrick Pitches Negro Leagues Baseball. He writes feature stories for Black College Nines. Com. Harvey is a member of the Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, the HBCU Pro Sports Media Association, and a member of the Legends Committee for the National College Baseball Hall of Fame. Harvey is an engaging speaker. Contact Harvey at firstname.lastname@example.org