Explore the Legacy of Civil Rights Icons John Lewis and C.T. Vivian

On July 17, 2020, the United States lost two notable trailblazers of the Civil Rights Movement, John Lewis and Cordy Tindell (C.T.) Vivian. Both men dedicated their lives to the fight for racial and social equality for Black Americans.

Working alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Lewis and Vivian participated in the most famous protests in history. Without these civil rights icons, many U.S. citizens wouldn’t have the right to vote or sit at the same counter with their peers.

Although the country still has a long way to go, we must acknowledge those who have paved the way for the long road to equality. This guide offers a look at the sites and locations that honor both Lewis and Vivian and their impact on civil rights.

  1. Skyline of Peoria, Illinois where Rev. C.T. Vivian took part in his first sit in.

    Photo By: Robert Haugland CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia

    Barton’s Cafeteria (Peoria, Illinois)

    Vivian, who was from Central Illinois, took part in his first sit-in protest in Peoria, Illinois, in 1947. Vivian participated in this nonviolent act when he worked as the assistant boy’s director for the Carver Community Center. The protest was a success and integrated the lunch counters at Barton’s Cafeteria.

  2. First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama

    Photo By: Drmies, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

    First Baptist Church (Montgomery, Alabama)

    Lewis first met Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy and Martin Luther King Jr. at this church in 1958 and was “formally initiated” into the Civil Rights movement. The church also played a critical role in the desegregation of public transportation and seating. It was a “refuge” for freedom riders who were met with violence at the Greyhound station downtown on May 21, 1961. Lewis was with King, Abernathy, and activists Wyatt Tee Walker and James Farmer in the basement when the church was under siege by white mob members. They were attacked with bricks and tear gas with other activists and worshippers.

  3. Civil Rights protest and march on Charlotte Avenue in Nashville (1960-1965)

    Photo By: Metro Archives, Nashville Public Library

    Nashville, Tennessee

    In Nashville, Lewis and Vivian spearheaded their fight for civil rights. Both men attended American Baptist College/Theological Seminary and participated in the Nashville Student Movement. They were both a part of the sit-ins to desegregate lunch counters in Nashville. They also led a group of around 4,000 protestors to Nashville’s city hall on April 19, 1960, where Mayor Ben West publicly admitted that “racial discrimination was morally wrong.”

  4. Old Montgomery Greyhound Station, Montgomery, Alabama.

    Photo By: Chris Pruitt/Wikimedia Commons

    Freedom Rides Museum (Montgomery, Alabama)

    The museum recognizes the fearless endeavors of the protestors who participated in the 1961 push to desegregate public transportation and seating. Lewis and Vivian, along with many other peaceful protestors' mugshots, are displayed at the museum. The building was originally the Greyhound bus station where the Freedom Riders were attacked when they arrived to Montgomery.

  5. View of the exterior gate at Mississippi State Penitentiary.

    Photo By: WhisperToMe via CC.O Wikimedia

    Parchman Farm (Parchman, Mississippi)

    Both Lewis and Vivian participated in the Freedom Rides of 1961. After traveling through many Southern states, they were both arrested and jailed at the state’s Parchman penitentiary for disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace. The men, along with other activists, participated in the rides to protest laws tied to segregated seating on public transportation. Lewis and Vivian were among the number of people who were beaten and tortured by Parchman guards. The mayor instructed the guards to “break their spirit.”

  6. View of the March on Washington in 1963 from the Lincoln Memorial

    Photo By: U.S. Government via Wikimedia Commons

    Lincoln Memorial (Washington, D.C.)

    Lewis and Vivian were present at the legendary March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that took place on August 28, 1963. Lewis was one of the speakers at the march. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee chairperson was only 23 years old when he spoke in front of more than 250,000 attendees. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic “I Have A Dream” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on that day as well.

  7. Edmund Winston Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

    Photo By: Brent Moore/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

    Edmund Pettus Bridge (Selma, Alabama)

    On Sunday, March 7, 1965, 25-year-old John Lewis was one of the 600-some protesters who attempted to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to fight for voting rights. While leading the crowd of protesters, Lewis was severely injured by law enforcement who cracked his skull open with a billy club. The day has been forever ingrained in U.S. history as “Bloody Sunday.” Upon his death, thousands of people created petitions for the bridge, which is named after a deceased Klu Klux Klan member, to be renamed in Lewis’ honor.

  8. An aerial view of Atlanta.

    Photo By: Doc Searls/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    Atlanta, Georgia

    Lewis and Vivian resided in Atlanta until their deaths. Both men continued to make notable strides as advocates and activists for civil rights. Lewis moved to Atlanta in 1963 and served in the United States House of Representatives for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District from 1987 to July 2020. Vivian moved there in the early 1970s and founded many organizations in the city, such as the C.T. Vivian Leadership Institute, Inc. and Black Action Strategies and Information Center (BASICS).

In honor of their fearlessness and continuous fight for equality, Lewis and Vivian each received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama (Lewis in 2011 and Vivian in 2013).

Brianna Rhodes is an African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund Fellow for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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