Civil Rights icon still fighting

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

ALBANY, Ga. -- Minister and author C.T. Vivian was a confidant of Martin Luther King Jr. in the embryonic age of the Civil Rights Movement in the early '60s. Now 86, he says he is often asked if he ever thinks about retiring. His answer is always the same.

"You can't retire from the movement," Vivian told a crowd at the Albany Civil Rights Institute's Old Mount Zion Museum Friday evening. "Once you start, it's in you to the core. We found out who we were back then. We found out who America was. Students and ministers made the movement happen, because we were the only black folks who didn't depend on white people to make decisions for us.

"And for the first time we could talk back to white people."

In 1961, Vivian joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and participated in Freedom Rides replacing injured members of the Congress of Racial Equality.

Vivian rode the first "Freedom Bus" into Jackson, Miss., and went on to work alongside King.

"After Montgomery, Martin called me and wanted to use this town (Albany) as how we were going to approach the movement at the local level," Vivian recalled. "At that time we didn't have a strategy for change. We knew if we acted violently, we'd be destroyed violently. But we also knew if we didn't act we'd be destroyed morally and physically.

"The world changed for us when we decided we were willing to die for what was right."

Vivian said the tide seemed to change when America began to pay attention.

"We touched the conscious of the nation," he said. "We proved to the century that God was not dead, and right is right and wrong is wrong. We used our faith like we'd never used it before."

And that faith was put to the test.

"Our movement showed the world what Christianity is all about," Vivian said. "The movement is moral and it is spiritual. Our spirituality freed us, not the legality. It was a natural movement or we'd have never won."

Vivian added the movement actually encompassed the past present and future.

"The Albany Movement made each of us honest about ourselves," he said. "It made us see our history differently so we could plan our future -- which is the creation of a new people.

"We can't think about the past without looking to the future."