The Reverend C. T. Vivian served in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), one of the leading organizations of the Civil Rights movement. Founded by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., the SCLC took the position that civil rights for all citizens were critical to a democratic society and that African Americans should use nonviolent direct action to protest segregation. An executive staff member of the SCLC, Vivian organized and led demonstrations throughout the Civil Rights movement.
Vivian's career as a civil rights activist began in 1958, when he helped found the Nashville Christian Leadership Conference (NCLC), a local affiliate of the SCLC. Although Nashville was considered moderate compared to other southern cities, racial segregation persisted. The NCLC was formed to demonstrate against stores, lunch counters, and movie theaters that discriminated against African Americans. For example, stores that sold merchandise to African Americans refused to serve them at their lunch counters and would not hire them as employees. In 1959, Vivian, the NCLC, and other activists engaged in sit-ins and boycotts that lasted for three months -- until in May 1960, Nashville city officials responded by integrating public facilities.
In 1960, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Boynton v. Virginia that segregation in public interstate travel facilities, such as bus station waiting rooms, was unconstitutional. In May 1961, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) organized the Freedom Rides: two interracial bus rides through the South to test the new ruling and the Interstate Commerce Commission's power of enforcement. When the riders were attacked in Anniston and Birmingham, Alabama, Vivian and other Nashville activists continued the ride to Jackson, Mississippi. In Jackson, Vivian and other riders were greeted by more violence and arrested for violating Jackson's segregation ordinances.
As a leader of the SCLC, Vivian also helped coordinate the 1965 voting rights campaign in Selma, Alabama. Vivian and other protesters publicly confronted Dallas County sheriff Jim Clark, who was known for forcefully preventing African Americans from registering to vote. Vivian told Clark, "This is not a local problem. This is a national problem. You cannot keep anyone in the United States from voting without hurting the rights of all other citizens. Democracy is built on this." When Vivian was pushed off the courthouse steps, he responded by saying, "We are willing to be beaten for democracy." Vivian later recalled the importance of this altercation: "It was a clear engagement between the forces of the movement and the forces of the structure that would destroy the movement. . . . You do not walk away from that. This is what the movement meant."
What inequalities in access to public accommodations did African Americans encounter?
How did the police respond to protesters?
What strategies did the protesters use, and why were they affective?
Why do you think some people were willing to mortgage their homes to raise bail for the protesters?