by iampunha | 7/28/2008 08:00:00 AM
Boy, I sure do write a lot about race. I like recognizing people who've worked to improve race relations in this country, and my soul (inasmuch as an atheist has one) feels slightly cleansed calling attention to someone for whom racism is a means, not mean.

And I'm fiercely proud of the stories I've told that have exposed you to the people and events you missed out on in school because The Era of Good Feeling is safer, or whatever. I will never stop looking for stories to tell (though I may slow down on occasion as Real Life intervenes), and I will be very sad if those stories ever dry up.

But however much I can find the information and give it new life, I wasn't there. I didn't put it all on the line.

The Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian did.

I tell you about what Medgar Evers did, what Myles Horton did, what Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe and the Freedom Riders did in part because of this man.

Where he walked the walk, I talk the talk.

And today I will talk the talk about Dr. Vivian.

For the 14th amendment, passed on July 28, 1868, and one of many steps America has taken on the still-unfinished path to equality among all Americans.

One of the great pains I have felt in writing this series is covering dead people. This is because you should know about them. You should have known about how Henry Ossian Flipper got railroaded by the military. You should have known about Ted Radcliffe, how he and Buck O'Neill and countless others were born too early. You should have known about what Althea Gibson was doing.

This pain is softened by the great pride and responsibility I feel when I tell these stories. And that feeling is augmented when I get responses like these, or like these, or particularly moving comments like this one. But getting to introduce y'all to people you should have known about, but now do because of me, is tremendously empowering.

But I still get there too late almost every time. Sometimes this can't be helped. Sometimes it could have been.

And sometimes it is, like in Dr. Vivian's case.

Dr. Vivian is as alive at this moment as he was in 1947, when he staged a sit-in at Barton's Cafeteria and integrated it.

He was 23.

When I was 23, I was struggling to wake up in the morning to get to class on time.

This man was integrating a cafeteria.

How do you top that? At 23, how do you top seeing social change enacted at your hands?

By giving other people the tools they need to do the same:

Studying for the ministry at American Baptist College in Nashville, Tennessee in 1959, Vivian met Rev. James Lawson, who was teaching Mahatma Ghandhi's nonviolent direct action strategy to the Student Central Committee. Diane Nash, Bernard Lafayette, James Bevel, James Forman, John Lewis and other students from American Baptist, Fisk University and Tennessee State University executed a systematic non-violent campaign for justice. On April 19, 1960, 4,000 demonstrators marched on City Hall where Vivian and Diane Nash challenged Nashville Mayor Ben West. As a result, Mayor West publicly agreed that racial discrimination was morally wrong.

The physical tools they need consist sometimes of only their feet:

Vivian, a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) recalls the first major march of the movement: "Four thousand people marching down the street and all you hear was their feet as they silently moved..." Ben West, Nashville’s mayor finally said alleged it was not morally right for the stores to sell the merchandise to black patrons but refuse food service. Three weeks after the that statement, black customers were served for the first time at lunch counters in downtown stores.

And then you pass those tools on to subsequent generations:

Along the [old Freedom Rider] route, speakers rotated among buses to describe their experiences and answer questions. Several came from the “Nashville movement” of brash activists, many affiliated with the same colleges and universities as the students.

Among them were Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, who was beaten and jailed on the rides; John Seigenthaler, an aide to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy during the crisis; James Lawson and C. T. Vivian, ministers who advised many of the students; and Diane Nash, who in the early 1960s led sit-in movements to desegregate lunch counters in Nashville and became one of the founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

If you're Dr. Vivian, you do whatever you think is necessary:

Using non-violent direct action techniques, he opened segregated lunch counters and restaurants in Peoria, Illinois and Greensboro, N.C. ten years before the famous efforts in Montgomery, Alabama.

When C.O.R.E. ended the Freedom Rides, the Nashville group picked it up. That allowed the entry of S.C.L.C. They took the rides on to Jackson, Mississippi, and became the first group of ministers and students to be arrested for actively ending racism in this hemisphere. After being beaten in Parchman Prison, he brought the federal government into action against the abuses in the Mississippi prison system. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the Nashville Movement the most perfect non-violent Movement in the nation.

They got Medgar Evers for doing it. They got Dr. King for doing it. They got Malcom X for doing it. They got little girls in church just because they could. They got a homeless black guy in 1937 for being hungry.

They didn't get Dr. Vivian. He got them, and he got theirs, and he got their society, and he still has it.

He still has it, and he's every bit as courageous as he was when he organized a march on Nashville in response to a bomb:

At 5:30 am on April 19, a bomb was thrown through a front window of Z. Alexander Looby's home in north Nashville, apparently in retaliation for his support of the demonstrators. The explosion almost completely destroyed Looby's home, although Looby and his wife, who were asleep in a back bedroom, survived without injury. More than 140 windows in a nearby dormitory were broken by the blast.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Rather than discouraging the protesters, however, this event served as a catalyst for the movement. Within hours, news of the bombing had spread throughout the community. Around noon, nearly 4000 people marched silently to City Hall to confront the mayor. Mayor West met the marchers at the courthouse steps. Reverend C. T. Vivian read a prepared statement accusing the mayor of ignoring the moral issues involved in segregation and turning a blind eye to violence and injustice. Diane Nash then asked the mayor if he believed that lunch counters in the city should be desegregated. West answered, "Yes", then added, "That's up to the store managers, of course."

Dr. Vivian has been doing it since 1947. And he's still doing it. He's still talking the talk and walking the walk.

Don't believe me?

Listen to him your own self:

2:19 in (but watch the entire thing. Oh, Lordy, watch it all):

That's the kind of faith I can get into.

That's the kind of movement I can get into.

And that's the kind of man I can get into.