Civil rights activist and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient C.T. Vivian met with Thomas Jefferson University President and CEO Stephen Klasko for a fireside chat Wednesday on healthcare and equal rights. His visit was a part of the 2nd Annual Jefferson salute to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision.
In an event open to all students, staff and community members, Vivian and Klasko discussed the Civil Rights Movement and nonviolent action, the role of the church in Black communities and other topics.
Born in 1924 in Missouri, Vivian first got involved in civil rights by organizing sit-ins in Nashville. He later rode on of the first “Freedom Bus” rides to Jackson, Miss. where he met King.
Vivian worked with King and other members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference planning the March on Washington and the subsequent passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
President Barack Obama awarded Vivian the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his civil rights work in 2013.
“Dr. King called him [Vivian] the greatest preacher of all time,” Klasko said after the fireside chat. “That’s like James Brown saying you’re a pretty good singer.”
Vivian shared with the audience how he and other organizers were able to turn their demonstrations into further action.
In the 60s, activists framed civil rights as a moral fight, not just a political fight. Their appeal to empathy helped sway people to support the cause.
“He [Vivian] repeated this, ‘The development of the poor is the civilizing of the rich,’” said Joseph Hill, chief diversity officer at Thomas Jefferson University.
Vivian and Klasko compared the 1963 March on Washington with the Women’s March on Washington after Inauguration Day.
Klasko felt the latter suffered from a lack of necessary action from government officials.
“It was very clear to President Lyndon Johnson what the March on Washington meant. I don’t think that was as clear in Saturday’s Women’s March,” Klasko said. “If you were sitting in the White House, it wasn’t clear what you should do next.”
Vivian also stressed the importance of family within the Black community.
“He said one of the things we need to figure out is how to reconstruct the nuclear family. How we can make family key,” Klasko said.
Jefferson’s salute to King’s vision was started two years ago as a way to give students the chance to witness history firsthand. Last year the university hosted Andrew Young, a civil rights activist and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Hill said Wednesday’s event filled Jefferson Alumni Hall, and he has heard nothing but positive feedback since.
“There aren’t too many people who can tell these stories,” Klasko said. “For me, it’s great that Jefferson has the opportunity to bring in these amazing inspirations.”