|Civil Rights Activists To Receive Presidential Award
BY DAVID STOKES
Two advocates who have long advocated and promoted civil and human rights for all mankind—the Rev. C. T. Vivian and Bayard Rustin, respectively—are set to be honored later this year by President Barack Obama, at the White House in Washington, D.C., for "their meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, towards world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors," as initially stated by President John F. Kennedy five decades ago, in 1963, when he issued the Executive order to bestow the nation's highest civilian award to individuals who "dedicate their own lives for the enrichment of ours," President Obama said earlier this month. Also, upon announcing this year's recipients, President Obama stated, "The Presidential Medal of Freedom goes to men and women who have dedicated their lives with extraordinary blessed talents, but what sets them apart is their gift for sharing their talent with the world. It is my honor to present them with a token of our nation's gratitude."
Among the slate of 16 total recipients, the Rev. Cordy Tindell (C.T.) Vivian is a 'staple' within Atlanta and the Southeast for his longstanding work within the civil rights arena. Today, Rev. Vivian, 89, serves as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a linear successor to Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-68), Ralph David Abernathy (1926-90), Joseph E. Lowery (b1921), et al., heading the civil rights organization which has worked "to redeem the soul of America" since 1957. A renowned minister, author and organizer, Rev. Vivian was one of the original Freedom Riders, throughout the South in 1961, along with a participant in various sit-ins across the country, advocating and calling for accessibility and equal rights for all God's children, black Americans, in particular. During Dr. King's tenure as SCLC founding president, Rev. Vivian was the organization's director of chapters and affiliates; however, it was Vivian's activism and defiant stance, in 1965, upon challenging Sheriff Jim Clark, on the steps of the Selma, Ala. courthouse, with citizens attempting to register to vote during SCLC's voting rights initiative, following other Alabamians attempts to register to vote in prior years, including Perry Co., Ala. resident Mr. Jimmie Lee Jackson. After Jackson's murder by Alabama state police in February, 1965, King and other activists from around the country gathered in Selma to complete the Selma to Montgomery march, on March 27, 1965, thereby, leading to the signage, by President Lyndon B. Johnson, of the historic Voting Rights Act. Since that time, the Rev. Vivian has worked tirelessly with human/civil rights advocacy by founding the Center for Democratic Renewal (formerly the Anti-Klan Network), and, in 2008, establishing the C.T. Vivian Leadership Institute. In 2011, Rev. Vivian accepted the presidency of SCLC to continue the work of advancing voters rights and promoting equal opportunity for all with gainful employment, healthcare and education, as well as working to lower the teen dropout rate, particularly for African-American students, and social justice for all, in general. (At late presstime, Rev. Vivian did not return a reporter's phone call to comment on the distinguished accolade.) The additional civil rights activist to be honored (posthumously) by President Obama is Bayard Rustin, an initial organizer of 1963's March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom who not only worked with the NAACP and SCLC, but was an "unyielding activist for civil rights and equality for all." Furthermore, as an advisor to Dr. King and other civil rights leaders, Rustin, a Westchester, Pennsylvania native, born on March 17, 1912, promoted nonviolent assistance, participated in 1961's Freedom Bus Rides and helped coordinate the historic March on Washington with others, as well as fought tirelessly for "marginalized" communities at home and abroad. Rustin, educated at Wilberforce University and the University of Pennsylvania, also advocated for gay rights for Americans while promoting social and economic justice for citizens nationwide. In 1987, at age 75, Rustin died in Manhattan/New York City.
Along with the Rev. Vivian and Mr. Rustin, respectively, other 2013 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients are basketball great Ernie Banks, retired Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) (posthumously), Psychology scholar Daniel Kahneman, retired U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (D-Indiana), country music singer Loretta Lynn, environmental scientist Mario Molina, the nation's first female astronaut Sally Ride (posthumously), jazz trumpeter/pianist Arturo Sandoval, University of North Carolina basketball head coach (1961-97) Dean Smith, renowned women's rights advocate/journalist Gloria Steinem, U.S. Appellate Court Judge Patricia Wald and broadcast journalist/actress/OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) founder Oprah Winfrey. (According to White House spokesman Kevin Lewis, no definitive date has been scheduled, at presstime, for the awards ceremony.) Other Atlantans who have been recognized with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recent years are former Mayor of Atlanta/U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, U.S. Rep./civil rights activist John Lewis of Atlanta's Fifth District and the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, SCLC's president emeritus who is affectionately known as "dean" of the civil rights movement.