Some months ago I had the privilege to spend a couple of hours with Rev. C.T. Vivian. His name may not be so familiar to you, but back in the day Rev. Vivian did more moving and shaking than most of the movers and shakers. Born in Missouri, he grew up in western Illinois and was what we today might call a community organizer after graduating college. In 1947, he helped to integrate commercial establishments in Peoria, and by the time he was ordained as a minister in 1959, he had a long record of involvement in peaceful advocacy for racial equality.
Rev. Vivian was one of the Freedom Riders and went on to work closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His published history of the civil rights movement was the first written by a member of Dr. King's staff. He also founded the organization now called Upward Bound that has made it possible for thousands of African American high school graduates to attend colleges.
My time with Rev. Vivian came in the winter of his years. He is physically frail, as a man of 84 years is entitled to be, and the passion of his youth has evolved into wonder as he looks back on more than sixty years of hard work and the fruits it has yielded.
Rev. Vivian and I sat together at a program paying tribute to the fortieth anniversary of Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. I was asking him about his experiences as a choir sang songs of the movement in the background. But he stopped suddenly in the midst of our conversation when they began to sing “Oh Freedom,” a spiritual from the days of the Civil War that was adopted by the Movement. Rev. Vivian began to sing along, and tears welled up in his eyes.
“Why does this song mean so much more to you than the others?” I asked.
He replied, “My mother sang it to me when I was a boy. And when I heard it, it just entered me. It has been inside me ever since.” He went on to tell me, “If God takes me before we arrive, I will be happy to have been a part of the journey.”
Rev. Vivian would object to a comparison to Moses in his attitude. But then, Moses too was the most humble of men. The song of freedom entered Moses, and his leadership of the journey of others was unavoidable. He, too, was happy just to have been a part of it.
By the way, the lyric that opened Rev. Vivian’s heart then and now was this: “And before I’d be a slave, I’d be buried in my grave, and go home to my Lord and be free.” Amen.
THIS MONTH’S BIG QUESTION
for the 5770/2009 High Holy Day Reflection Booklet
Please send your answers to this address:
Answers should be 250 words or less. Please sign your name – it will
not be published unless you request otherwise. Along with your name,
indicate the number of the question you are answering.
#2 Where do you feel at home?