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Remembering King's legacy

Dr. C.T. Vivian says Civil Rights activists were willing to die for the cause of racial justice and equality

SUBMITTED PHOTO: ROB WEST - Members of the Northwest Freedom Singers enter the Chapel of the Holy Names at Mary's Woods on Monday for a celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.Dr. C.T. Vivian has spent much of his life confronting fear and hatred.

“I can’t help but think back to when hate was natural in the streets,” Vivian told a crowd that gathered Monday in the Chapel of the Holy Names at Mary’s Woods, “when we were confronting something that was obviously mean and evil.

“Then came a man named Martin Luther King Jr., with a new concept — nonviolence,” Vivian said. “He developed a means and a method. That is why he was able to defeat his enemies. More important, he was willing to die to defeat evil and let good grow. That only happens when you are willing to die.”

Vivian, who was among King’s closest friends and advisers, was the featured speaker at the second annual celebration of King’s life in Lake Oswego. The civil rights activist joined members of the Northwest Freedom Singers in a performance of inspirational songs and gospel hymns, hosted a question-and-answer session and attended a reception following his presentation.

“Martin had the answers,” Vivian said. “It takes generations to solve a problem, because our evil is so deep. The Civil Rights Movement happened because Martin wouldn’t settle for a piece of paper. He was going all the way and there would not be any compromise. We won because we were willing to suffer.”

Vivian, who currently serves as board chair of BASIC Diversity Inc., helped King in the planning of Freedom Marches and other civil rights demonstrations. During his long career, he has published several books and provided counsel to Presidents Johnson, Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Obama. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

SUBMITTED PHOTO: ROB WEST - Dr. C.T. Vivian moved from the podium to a more comfortable chair for the question-and-answer portion of his presentation Monday at Mary's Woods.And he, too, was willing to die for the cause of racial equality. In fact, he almost lost his life 50 years ago, when he led a demonstration to integrate the beaches in the city of St. Augustine, a tourist mecca in Florida.

“I couldn’t swim,” Vivian recalled on Monday. “But I had a right to be in that ocean.”

Members of the Ku Klux Klan disagreed, standing at the water’s edge with their hands locked to block Vivian and his group. At one point, an enraged Klansman broke ranks and leaped onto Vivian’s back, driving him to the ground and shoving his face into the sand.

“I thought, ‘This is it,’” Vivian said. “’I’ve had it.’”

When a St. Augustine policeman finally arrived, he seemed unsure whether to arrest Vivian or the Klansman — symbolic, perhaps, of the dilemma facing St. Augustine itself: accept integration, or suffer a terrible blow to its reputation as a tourist paradise.

Vivian kept his freedom, and he lived to continue his nonviolent campaign.

As national director of affiliates and strategist for every Southern Christian Leadership Conference organization, he helped change the nation. In 1947, he led a direct-action movement to integrate restaurants in Peoria, Ill. Later, his work in Birmingham and Selma, Ala., helped enact the Civil Rights Bill and the Voting Rights Bill. And in 1970, he authored the first book written by a member of King’s staff, entitled “Black Power and the American Myth.”

Today, Vivian continues to lecture on racial justice and democracy throughout the world. But as remarkable as the accomplishments of the civil rights movement were, he said Monday, there are still forces that keep many human beings from having “the life intended for us by the creator.”

“Money is deciding your humanity,” he said, noting recent Supreme Court decisions regarding campaign finance laws. “This is a threat to our sense of democracy. God is not concerned about color. He’s a do-right God. You can’t have the kind of world you were created to live in when you are willing to destroy people to earn a dollar.”

Vivian urged the audience to keep one thing especially in mind.

“We must ask ourselves the God question,” he said. “Why do you do the things you do? Martin Luther King made us face those kinds of questions.”

Contact Cliff Newell at 503-636-1281 ext. 105 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..