AFL-CIO Notes the Passing of Reverend C.T. Vivian and the Honorable John Lewis

Labor News

Reprinted from the AFL-CIO’s Now site by its staff on July 23, 2020.

Over the past weekend, the civil rights community suffered the loss of two giants in the movement—the Reverend C.T. Vivian (95) and Representative John Lewis (80). As the nation grapples with protests and demands for racial equality, we remember their unwavering commitment to social, racial and economic justice. Both friends to labor and colleagues of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., their lives were the embodiment of “good trouble, necessary trouble.”

John Lewis, a revered member of Congress serving in Georgia’s 5th District for more than three decades—and the longest-serving member of the Congressional Black Caucus—carried his passion for equal rights throughout his career. He began his fight for civil rights by using his young voice to dismantle the Jim Crow South. At age 23, Lewis was the youngest person to speak at the historic 1963 March on Washington. He also participated in lunch counter sit-ins, joined the Freedom Riders in their quest to register Black voters, and helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Most notably, Lewis was on the front lines of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, to demand African Americans’ constitutional right to vote.

C.T. Vivian was a minister, civil rights leader and key adviser to King, organizing critical civil rights campaigns that shaped our country. His work spans more than six decades beginning with sit-in demonstrations in Peoria, Illinois, in the 1940s—more than a dozen years before the momentous lunch counter protests made national news. Referred to by King as “the greatest preacher to ever live,” Vivian was a national director of affiliates for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and an active participant in the Freedom Rides in Mississippi, which made headlines across the South. …

AFL-CIO Now site 7/23


The World John Lewis Helped Create

Reprinted from The Atlantic by 

John Lewis believed in the American project and wanted to perfect it.

On August 28, 1963, Lewis stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before hundreds of thousands of people, but his mind was on those who could not be there. He thought of the Black people in Danville, Virginia, living under the heavy baton of a police state; of the sharecroppers in the Mississippi Delta, working for starvation wages; of the three young men facing the death penalty in Georgia for protesting. “We will go to jail if this is the price we must pay for love, brotherhood, and true peace,” Lewis told the crowd. “I appeal to all of you to get into this great revolution that is sweeping this nation. Get in the streets and stay in the streets of every city, every village and hamlet of this nation until true freedom comes, until the revolution of 1776 is complete.” Lewis was just 23 years old. Shortly after he said those words, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Lewis, whose death from pancreatic cancer at age 80 was announced late last [week], lived a revolutionary life as an activist, organizer, and representative who became known to many as the “soul” of Congress. “There were moments when we had the votes [to pass legislation] in terms of sheer Democratic majority, but the will was not there to get things done,” Jaime Harrison, who worked with Lewis as the majority floor director in the House, told me. “It was always John Lewis who would step up. And when John Lewis got up to speak, everybody listened.” Harrison is now running to unseat South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham in the Senate, on a platform of registering disenfranchised Black voters across the state. …

The Atlantic 7/18

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Jeff Burman served on the Guild’s Board of Directors from 1992 to 2019. He is now retired. He can be reached at [email protected].