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A Civil Rights-Related Gift for Macomb High Graduates

Rich Egger
Denise Morse hands a copy of the book to MHS senior Adam Farr. Jo Anna Walker is standing next to Morse.

Before Macomb High School seniors received their diplomas this month, they received a gift connected to the renowned civil rights leader the Reverend C.T. Vivian, who grew up in the community.

The news came Friday morning after students participated in a graduation ceremony rehearsal under overcast skies at the football field.

Normally, they would be dismissed after running through the rehearsal. But this time they were asked to stick around. That’s when all 140 of them learned they would each receive a copy of Dr. Vivian’s recently published memoir, “It’s in the Action - Memories of a Non-Violent Warrior.”

Furthermore, two of Dr. Vivian’s daughters -- Jo Anna Walker and Denise Morse -- and one of his granddaughters -- Kierston Vivian -- were there to personally sign and hand the books to the students while engaging in conversation with each one of them.

Morse flew up from Atlanta, Georgia for the day and said it was well worth it.

“Daddy loved Macomb. He loved Macomb High. And so it just seemed like the perfect thing to do considering that the book has just come out,” Morse said. “And when I meet the people here, I get it. Every time I come up here it’s a wonderful experience.”

She said her favorite parts of the book are about her father’s childhood. “Just the stories he told about growing up in Macomb and being a student here and the people he met and the life lessons it taught him.”

She said her father learned to forgive and accept others instead of hating them. She said he cared about people. “That was a cool thing about him.” She hoped readers will appreciate her father’s lifelong commitment to justice. 

Morse called the book a great little send-off gift for the students.

The C.T. Vivian Project

Byron Oden-Shabazz, President of the recently-formed foundation, the C.T. Vivian Project, came up with the idea for the gift.

Credit Rich Egger

“What can we do to get the book out but honor him at the same time? And donating the book to each student we thought was a perfect project,” he said.

Oden-Shabazz said he founded the C.T. Vivian Project to continue Vivian’s legacy. He said one of the foundation’s goals is to give a gift in honor of Vivian to each year’s graduating MHS class.

He is also striving to build the Reverend Dr. C.T. Vivian Center for Cultural and Civic Engagement at the now-vacant site of Vivian’s childhood home.

“He (Vivian) would have told you that he was formed right here in Macomb. So the center is a way to keep that going, where we can do a host of things in our community around that legacy and hopefully build our youth, have a space for our community, and continue his work of civic and social engagement,” Oden-Shabazz said.

The Reverend Dr. C.T. Vivian was born in Boonville, Missouri in 1924. His family moved to Macomb when he was young. He graduated from Macomb High School and attended Western Illinois University. 

He helped integrate a diner in Peoria in 1947, then went on to serve as one of the leaders of the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ‘60s. He was a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Vivian died in Atlanta in July, 2020, just a couple weeks shy of his 96th birthday.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  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.