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Rep. John Lewis and Rev. C.T. Vivian remembered during Birmingham Vigil

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin speaks during a vigil for Congressman John Lewis and Rev CT. Vivian who both passed away on July 17. (Screengrab/Facebook)
By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times

Good Trouble. That is what several city officials and local leaders remembered about Congressman John Lewis and Rev. C.T. Vivian during a virtual vigil held from City Hall for Lewis and Vivian, who both died on July 17. Vivian was 95 and Lewis was 80.

Bishop Calvin Woods, president of the Birmingham-Metropolitan Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); T. Marie King, local community activist and organizer; Caleb Neverson, President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) Youth Council; DeJuana Thompson, founder of Woke Vote; and Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin paid respects to the civil rights icons.

On Monday, Lewis became the first Black lawmaker to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda.

Woods, 86, who was involved in the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and ‘60s, recalled when both men came to Birmingham.

“I saw some of the suffering of those two men, not only in Selma, Alabama but in what was said to be the worst city of the United States of America, Birmingham, which was called the Johannesburg of the South,” Woods recalled. “I saw those men suffer here in Birmingham, during that time a city of terror, [where] places were dynamited, homes dynamited, people were beaten, killed and jailed.”

Woods said Vivian and Lewis came to Birmingham at the request of Birmingham’s Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and joined in the fight for justice.

“We had no positions here, we were looked down, we had no persons like us occupying positions in City Hall. As we marched, we were brutalized and jailed,” said Woods. “… Their lives should all remind us that we too . . . can leave some footprints on the signs of time.”

T. Marie King said Vivian and Lewis were “beacons of light and hope that illuminated an era to the pathways of justice.”

“Rev. Vivian’s soft-spoken nature, compassionate heart and strategic mind placed him in rooms to lay a foundation for change for the Civil Rights Movement and beyond,” she said. “It has been said that he was a planner and implementer but a silent warrior who challenged leaders with the question, are you willing to serve by giving your full measure to your mission?”

As the fight for equity and justice continue, King said it is time for “us to grab these mantles and follow their road map and get into good trouble.”

Neverson said the time is now for young people to get involved in the fight for justice, much like Lewis and Vivian, and never give up or give in.

“We as young people have an obligation, mission and mandate to push and pull and not be satisfied until something gets accomplished because we cannot afford to be silent,” he said. “As I thought about our next steps as young leaders, people who will shape the culture for not only our generation but for generations to come, I came to the realization that we can only move forward if we refer back to the words of Congressman John Lewis who said ‘never give up and never give in.’”

Thompson spoke of being mentored by Lewis for 12 years.

“As I look at the state of affairs of this country over the last several years and most recently and I think back to the legacy of Birmingham… I am thinking how long will we have to fight for justice,” she said. “I remember something the congressman said, he said ‘the fight is always right now.’ I encourage each and every one of us to fight the fight of justice that is happening at this very moment.”

Woodfin said Birmingham has always served as “our teachable moment” and we can learn what those giants did for the city and others.

“Rev. Vivian taught us strategy when he rode alongside the Freedom Riders breaking the chains of segregation and he taught us perseverance as he marched tirelessly for voting rights and he taught us the importance of education by laying the groundwork of what would be the Upward Bound program,” said Woodfin.

“[Congressman Lewis] taught us fearlessness,” Woodfin continued. “When the Edmund Pettus Bridge turned into a literal battleground over the right to vote, he walked away with more than a broken skull and lungs, he left with an even greater determination for that one word, justice.”

Woodfin ended by encouraging a move that would add to Lewis’s legacy.

“We must restore the Voting Rights Act…,” Woodfin said, “we must stand in utter defiance of voter suppression. Rev. Vivian and Congressman Lewis shed too much blood, sweat and tears to allow their work to be undone. We cannot accept false sincerity and empty words… they deserve more, we deserve more. We stand on the shoulders of two giants and we honor them by keeping their work, their mission, their hope alive.”

Updated at 10:10 a.m. on 7/28/2020 with additional information. 

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