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On November 20, the Rev. C.T. Vivian was one of fifteen luminaries to win the Medal of Freedom. Along with other awardees, including former Pres. Bill Clinton, Gloria Steinem, and Oprah Winfrey, he was presented with the award by President Obama. Rev. Vivian has a special relationship to the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, and joined our board of advisors when it was first created. At the beginning of August he also came to see us in Kansas City, and he spoke at a mass meeting in support of striking fast food workers. He gave encouragement to one and all that day.

I first heard Rev. Vivian speak in February 1980, at a march commemorating the Greensboro sit-ins and opposing recent Klan-neo-Nazi violence in that city. In the years following, I worked closely with him at the National Anti-Klan Network, and then with the Center for Democratic Renewal after we changed the name. I was a paid employee from 1985 to 1994 at the Center for Democratic Renewal, and C.T. was our uncompensated board chair. In addition to deciding strategy after a big outbreak of racist violence in northern Georgia, and dragging him to Seattle for a big conference there, I often sat next to him in organizational meetings. I felt like I was sitting next to history. But C.T. assured me he was a person like any other, with a “life, not a line.” As we traveled the country together, we would look for chocolate shops on the street, admire architecture from New York to Seattle, and share our favorite pies in the Midwest. We held his 65th birthday party in a rare book shop in Atlanta. He loves books and is a great collector.

The Rev. C.T. Vivian is a person of great energy, tremendous moral and physical courage and an indefatigable fighter for freedom, justice and equality. He deserved that award.

Leonard Zeskind

Author Leonard Zeskind

is founder of IREHR. For almost four decades, he has been a leading authority on white nationalist political and social movements. He is the author of Blood and Politics: The History of White Nationalism from the Margins to the Mainstream, published by Farrar Straus & Giroux in May 2009. [more..]

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