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Civil rights leader Rev. C.T. Vivian dead at 95

The iconic activist was a key advisor to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and a Freedom Rider.

Rev. C.T. Vivian David Goldman/Associated Press

Rev. C.T. Vivian has passed away at the age of 95. The civil rights titan died in his home in Atlanta, his loved ones confirmed on Friday (July 17). Speaking with Atlanta’s NBC affiliate WXIA, Vivian’s daughter Denise Morse said he was “one of the most wonderful men who ever walked the earth.”

“He has always been one of the people who had the most insight, wisdom, integrity and dedication,” added former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young.

Vivian suffered a stroke about two months ago, but appeared to be on the mend. However, his friend and business partner Don Rivers told NBC that “he just stopped eating” and passed away from natural causes.

One of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s key advisors, Vivian began staging sit-ins against serration in Peoria, Illinois in the 1940s. He met King while participating in the 13-month Montgomery bus boycott of 1955, spurred after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. Vivian was also an organizer of the Freedom Riders movement.

In 1965, he was beaten by a segregationist sheriff while he trying to register Black voters in Selma, Alabama. The incident was one of many that sparked the Selma Voting Rights Movement, which pressured Congress to pass the Voters Rights Act. The celebrated activist was also an active member of the King-led Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Vivian continued to advocate for justice and equality even into his old age. In 2008, he founded the C.T. Vivian Leadership Institute aimed at “training and educating the new generation of grassroots leaders.” In 2013, former President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He also consulted Obama, Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton on civil rights matters during their presidencies.

“I admired him from afar before I became a senator and got to know him as a source of wisdom, advice, and strength on my first presidential campaign,” Obama wrote of Vivian in a statement. “His friendship, encouraging words, and ever-present smile were a great source of inspiration and comfort, and personally, I will miss him greatly.”

May the civil rights icon Rest in Power. See some reactions to the sad news of Vivian’s passing below.

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