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A Fond Farewell to a Civil Rights Champion

Rich Egger
McDonough County NAACP Branch President Byron Oden-Shabazz, at the podium, emceed the memorial service.

Macomb paid its final respects to the Reverend C.T. Vivian, the civil rights leader who grew up in the community.  Dr. Vivian died July 17 at the age of 95.

More than 100 people attended an outdoor service in honor of Vivian. It took place on a hot and muggy July afternoon.

Dr. J.Q. Adams was the featured speaker. He spent 25 years at Western Illinois University, where he is credited with creating and teaching undergraduate and graduate multicultural courses. He also conducted several lengthy interviews with Vivian through the years.

He said during one of their conversations, Vivian called the American Civil Rights movement a confrontation for the moral and ethical soul of America.

“I have never understood how Christians could be so cruel to people of color. And in many cases, fellow Christians,” Vivian told Adams.

“When you call yourself the Bible Belt – what Bible are you reading?”

Adams also recounted one of Vivian’s best-known moments from the movement.  

Vivian was in Selma, Alabama in 1965 to push for voting rights.  He was stopped on the steps of the Dallas County courthouse by Sheriff Jim Clark, who punched Vivian in the face in front of reporters and protesters.

“We still see you struck and bloodied, knocked to your knees,” said Adams.” And we still see you rise up, not with contempt but with love because, as C.T. says, it takes radical love to overcome radical evil.”

Adams said he visited with Vivian in 2017.  He said right up to the end, the reverend’s passion for the civil rights struggle remained alive and well.

Other speaker during the hour-long tribute included Macomb Mayor Mike Inman, Western Illinois University President Martin Abraham, and Frank Stacy, Illinois District Director for Alpha Phi Alpha.

The service took place at the site of C.T. Vivian’s boyhood home. The lot is now vacant, though there are plans to build a center of civic and social engagement as well as a small park at the location.

This story was produced by Tri States Public Radio.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.