Watch CBS News

Funeral service honors civil rights leader Rev. C. T. Vivian

Funeral for civil rights leader C. T. Vivian
Funeral held for civil rights leader Rev. C. T. Vivian 01:02

The nation paid its final respects Thursday to the Rev. C.T. Vivian, a pioneer of the civil rights movement who helped end segregation across the South and left an abiding imprint on U.S. history.

Vivian, a close ally of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was mourned by civil rights icons along with TV personality and author Oprah Winfrey, baseball legend Hank Aaron, former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young and others during a funeral at Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta. Vivian died Friday at age 95.

"C.T. was truly a remarkable man, a man whose physical courage was exceeded only by his moral courage, whose capacity for love overwhelmed incredible hatreds, whose faith and the power of nonviolence helped forever change our nation," former Vice President Joe Biden said in a video tribute aired during the service.

"In Illinois, and in Tennessee and Florida, and Mississippi — in the North and in the South — CT was there fighting to turn us back toward justice," Biden added.

2011 Winter TCA Tour - Day 5
Rev. C.T. Vivian in 2011 Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images

Many of those who eulogized Vivian described him as a courageous soldier for God and civil rights who always remained humble.

"He didn't want attention, he didn't want money, he only wanted to do God's will and bring out the best in these United States of America and its people regardless of their race, creed, color or national origin," Ambassador Andrew Young said in his videotaped remarks.

More than a decade before lunch-counter protests made headlines during the civil rights movement, Vivian began organizing sit-ins against segregation in Peoria, Illinois, in the 1940s. He later joined forces with King and organized the Freedom Rides across the South to fight segregation.

Vivian was honored by former President Barack Obama with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

President Obama Awards Presidential Medal Of Freedom
President Barack Obama awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to civil rights leader C.T. Vivian at the White House on November 20, 2013. Win McNamee / Getty Images

Vivian "was always one of the first in the action — a Freedom Rider, a marcher in Selma, beaten, jailed, almost killed, absorbing blows in hopes that fewer of us would have to," Mr. Obama said in a statement shortly after his death.

On Wednesday, a horse-drawn carriage took Vivian's casket from the Georgia Capitol, where a memorial service was held, to King's tomb in Atlanta, rolling down Piedmont Avenue and Auburn Avenue to The King Center as well-wishers lined the streets.

Vivian, a towering figure in the movement whose activism dated back more than seven decades, died the same day as Congressman John Lewis — a fellow icon in the long fight for racial equality. Vivian was a Baptist minister and one of the leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. 

Civil Rights Leader C.T. Vivian Lies In State At Georgia Capitol
The body of civil rights leader Rev. C.T. Vivian arrives to lay in state in the Georgia Capitol building on July 22, 2020 in Atlanta. Vivian, who fought on the front lines of the civil rights movement alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., died on Friday at the age of 95. Elijah Nouvelage / Getty Images

"As one of the foremost advocates for justice during the Civil Rights Movement and one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s most trusted friends and deputies, C.T. Vivian stood on the front lines of the fight for equality," Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said during Wednesday's ceremony at the Capitol.

"During one of the most turbulent times in our nation's history, C.T. Vivian was steadfast and calm, grounded in the knowledge that he fought for something much bigger than the obstacle in front of him," Kemp added.

Georgia State Representative Vernon Jones said Vivian paved the way for Black Americans to reach the highest levels in public life.

"There would be no Obama had it not been for C.T. Vivian," said Jones, USA Today reported. "There would be no Black female Congresspersons had it not been for C.T. Vivian. His legacy will live forever."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.