John Lewis and C.T. Vivian Chose Peace as Their Weapon

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“Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:18

By Lisa Mitchell Sennaar

Rep. John Lewis and Rev. Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian adopted peace and nonviolence as an ideology and tools for social change. Rep. Lewis was a sit-in student protestor, volunteer freedom rider, founding member and chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and member of the Big Six; City Council member; advisor to numerous presidents; and senior member of Congress. Rev. Vivian was a Christian journalist; leader in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); volunteer freedom rider; advisor on pivotal political campaigns and to several American presidents; and founder of the CT Vivian Leadership Institute to create a model leadership culture for the purpose of training and educating the new generation of grass-roots leaders. Both of these heroic men dedicated their lives to fighting for the human rights of all people. Both men possessed an aura that only comes from staring death in the face and daring it stop them. In fact, they became more vigilant. 

Civil Rights Leaders Mtg: (John Lewis pictured Dr. King, VP Hubert Humphrey, Clarence Mitchell, Jr. and others). (Photo/U.S. National Archives)

What is so significant and relevant today is that both men were leading peaceful voting rights demonstrations in Alabama in 1965. They were among the non-violent protestors who were brutally beaten by law enforcement officers. The beatings were recorded by news cameras and aired on national television. Rev. Vivian was beaten on the steps of the Courthouse in Selma and Rep. Lewis was attacked at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on his way to Selma to protest the police killing of nonviolent protester, Jimmie Lee Jackson and the denial of Black Alabama residents’ right to vote in Alabama. 

Sen. Clarence Mitchell IV (C4 on WBAL radio) described Rep. John Lewis as “a peaceful man with quiet power. To be physically in his presence was awe inspiring. When someone puts their life on the line for others, it’s powerful.” Rev. Vivian said in an interview toward the end of his life, “We have proven that we can solve social problems without violence if we choose.” 

The peaceful international movement to end police brutality and killing of Black people that was sparked by the brutal killing of unarmed 46-year-old father and family man, George Floyd on May 25 by Minneapolis police should allow peacemakers Rep. Lewis and Rev. Vivian to transition, because they have sowed in peace.

Lisa Mitchell Sennaar