Two Education Professors Reflect on the Remarkable Lives of Two Civil Rights Icons

by Christopher M. Span and Rebecca Ginsburg  /   Jul 21, 2020

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The News-Gazette invited two professors from the College of Education to reflect on the remarkable lives of two civil rights icons recently lost on the same day—Congressman John Lewis and the Rev. “C.T.” Vivian.

'Let’s honor their vision and persistence by finishing what they started. Let’s act as they responsibly acted.'

As a child, my mother told me death always comes in three. Saddened by recent newscasts, I presently ponder who’s the third. Was it Elijah? Perhaps someone else tomorrow?

In one day, our nation lost two giants for social justice. Friends and mentors to humanity.

First was the Reverend Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian—Baptist minister and civil rights icon; confidant of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Macomb High School and Western Illinois graduate; youth director in Peoria; leader of the sit-in movement in Nashville, Tenn.; freedom rider; founder of Vision, a higher education program designed to prepare Black youth for college and beyond, which would later be renamed Upward Bound; truthsayer; dismantler of unjust laws; believer in the transformative power of education; and protector of human dignity and rights.

The Rev. Vivian was followed in death by his dear friend, Congressman John Lewis—born the son of Alabama sharecroppers during the Jim Crow era; teenage freedom rider; chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee; organizer of the peaceful march across the infamous Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma that turned into “Bloody Sunday” because of police and mob brutality; public servant and statesman for nearly 60 years; recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom; deemed the moral conscious of Congress; and author of a trilogy of graphic novels entitled, MARCH, that seek to teach youth about the Civil Rights Movement, and the power and necessity of organized protest for social justice and progressive change.

Lewis’ death is personal for me. In early spring 2020, I prepared an honorary degree packet for Congressman Lewis, near unanimously approved by the Faculty Senate.

Read the rest of Dr. Span's comments at the News-Gazette website...

John Lewis: 'His relentlessness speaks to a hopefulness that we need right now'

People are, of course, talking about John Lewis’ leadership within the nonviolent civil rights movement of the 1960s, but I hope we won’t lose sight of the fact he didn’t go into retirement after the significant gains of that era.

What moves me about Mr. Lewis’ life is that he remained in the struggle. In some ways, photos of him sitting on the House floor in 2016, participating in the sit-in that he and other Democratic members organized in support of gun control legislation, are even more powerful than photos of him on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Read the rest of Dr. Ginsburg's comments at the News-Gazette website...