The Legacy Project focuses on people with central Illinois roots who have made significant contributions nationally or internationally in their chosen fields. Together with our partner -- public television station WTVP-TV -- we are asking these people what helped form the character and values that drove them to success and preserving their memories for the future. The unedited videotapes of these interviews have been donated to the Peoria Public Library and to the Peoria Historical Society in hopes they can someday be used for a local history museum.


Oct 24, 1999


*1924: Born July 28 in Boonville, Mo., the only child of Robert Cordie and Euzetta Tindell Vivian. Named Cordy Tindell -- nicknamed C.T. -- a combination of his father's middle name and his mother's family name.

*1930: Mother and grandmother, Annie Woods Tindell, both divorced, move to Macomb, because it has a college young C.T. can attend eventually.

*1942: Graduates from Macomb High School, where he had been an active student leader; begins stint at Western Illinois University.

*Mid-1940s: Begins first of several stays in Peoria, hired at Carver Community Center.

*1947-48: With the Rev. Barton Hunter and Benjamin Alexander, among others, Vivian participates in his first sit-ins, which led to the racial integration of Bishop's Cafeteria in Peoria, among other restaurants and hotels.

*1953: Marries Octavia Geans, a native of Pontiac, Mich., who had moved to Peoria to work at Carver.

*1953: Elected vice president, NAACP, Peoria chapter.

*1954: While working at Foster & Gallagher mail-order company, he hears a voice. "Work for me 10 to 12 hours a day. " This is his call to the ministry. Preaches first sermon at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Peoria.

*1955: Moves to Nashville, Tenn., enrolls in American Baptist Theological Seminary.

*1959: He, Kelly Miller Smith and other ministers found Nashville Christian Leadership Conference, an affiliate of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Vivian is elected vice president. The group organizes and trains students in nonviolent direct action, embarks on movement to end segregation in Nashville. Many of the students, including John Lewis and Diane Nash, will eventually become the backbone of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

*1961: Joins several SNCC members and other ministers to continue the Freedom Rides after original group, organized by Committee On Racial Equality, disbands. By ride's end, he too will end up brutally beaten in Mississippi's notorious Parchman Prison. But this marks the beginning of his involvement in the major civil rights movement campaigns of the decade, including Albany, Ga. (1961), Birmingham, Ala. (1962), St. Augustine, Fla. (1964), and Selma, Ala. (1965). His grandmother dies.

*1963: Appointed to executive staff of SCLC by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His official title is national director of affiliates.

*1965: In Selma, he confronts Sheriff Jim Clark on the steps of the city's courthouse, while leading black citizens up the steps of the city's courthouse to register to vote.

*1966: Leaves SCLC to direct the Urban Training Center for Christian Mission in Chicago, trains clergy, community leaders and others to organize.

*1968: Coordinator, Coalition for United Community Action, Chicago. Leads direct-action campaign against racism in building trades unions, leads to development of the Chicago Plan. In addition, mediates a truce among Chicago gangs.

*1969: Writes "Black Power and the American Myth."

*1972: Dean, alternative education and director of Seminary Without Walls, Shaw University Divinity School, Raleigh, N.C.

*1977: Founds Black Action Strategies and Information Center, workplace consultants on race relations and multicultural sensitivity training.

*1979: Helps organize and serves as board chairman for National Anti-Klan Network, currently known as Center for Democratic Renewal.

*1984: National deputy director for clergy, Jesse Jackson's presidential campaign.

*1992: Board member, organizer of National Voting Rights Museum, Selma, Ala.

*1994: Helps establish and serves as board member of Capitol City Bank and Trust Co., a black-owned bank in Atlanta.

*1999: Though he has turned day-to-day operations of BASIC over to his son (one of seven children), at 75, he still lectures and is involved in numerous national and international boards and groups that promote nonviolent tactics for social change. For instance, he just returned from Havana, Cuba, where he conducted nonviolent workshops. An avid collector of rare books by and about blacks, he is also assistant pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Atlanta.

Copyright Peoria Journal Star, Inc. 2002