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Macomb Pays Homage to Home-Grown Civil Rights Leader

Nov 8, 2018

A plaque now marks the site where civil rights leader Reverend C.T. Vivian lived when he grew up in Macomb. The lot at 702 E. Adams St. is currently empty but Byron Oden-Shabazz is making big plans for it.

“How could I live in the very city where C.T. Vivian was raised and not do something in his honor?” asked Oden-Shabazz, who is the Area Director for the African American fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha, the same fraternity Vivian belonged to. 

The local historic site designation was granted by the Macomb Historic Preservation Commission. Oden-Shabazz said he intends to also seek state and national historic designations.

In addition, he plans to begin a capital campaign to pay for construction of a center for civic and social engagement, which will include a C.T. Vivian museum.  

Dr. C.T. Vivian during an appearance several years ago at Western Illinois University
Credit Rich Egger

“It is a great way to honor someone who’s actually still alive.  He’s a living icon,” said Oden-Shabazz.

“(The center) will deal with issues of racial and social justice – all the things he worked to remedy. What better way to honor him than to build an institution as opposed to just a day or something simple where we honor him. Let’s look at something that has a long-lasting effect. We can bring people from everywhere, all types of speakers, to come to the community and build the community.”

The Vivian family still owns the land and plans to donate it for the center.

Several people spoke during the dedication ceremony for the plaque:

  • Dr. Jack Thomas, President of Western Illinois University: Many of us, particularly as people of color and African Americans, would not be able to celebrate and do some of the things we’re doing now had it not been for those forerunners who stood during those very difficult times.
  • Emily Sutton, member of the Macomb Historic Preservation Commission: Dr. Vivian was a man of courage, conviction, and intelligence. I admire him for his leadership in making our country a more just place for everyone. The work is far from finished but we have Dr. Vivian’s example to continue to inspire us on the path toward true political and social freedom and equality.
  • Michael Boyd, Illinois District Director for Alpha Phi Alpha: Coming together with the work from Mayor Inman, from the Historic Preservation Commission, from everybody who had a hand in doing this, it shows that great things can happen when people collaborate and have open minds and hearts to do what’s right for the community.
  • Jo Anna Walker, Dr. Vivian’s first-born child:  At one point I thought maybe I could make a park of it (this site) but what they’re doing is much, much better. And I’m so glad that people are remembering my father and all the things he did.

The historic marker

Walker hopes Vivian can attend the dedication ceremony for the center if it is built.

Dr. Vivian is credited with integrating lunch counters in Peoria in the 1950s.  He later worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King Junior during the American Civil Rights movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s.  He is now age 94 and lives in Atlanta, Georgia.