By Pastor Rasheed Z Baaith
“Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the one who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
Lions are symbols of courage and of power. Rev. C T Vivian and Rev. John Lewis had both. They were lions. And sadly these lions have gone home. Forever.
While almost all of us knew of or had heard of the work John Lewis has done in the Civil Rights movement, not enough knew of the strength of C T Vivian’s commitment to demanding the rights of our people. He was intrepid.
Rev. Vivian began his Civil Rights participation in 1947 when he participated in sit-in to integrate a cafeteria Rec. Vivian studied for the ministry at American Baptist College in Nashville, Tennessee. His professor was James Lawson and his classmates included Diane Nash, Bernard Lafayette, James Bevel, and John Lewis among others. All of whom including Lawson would become leaders and soldiers in the Civil Rights army. They became the Nashville Student Movement. They led 4,000 demonstrators on the first campaign.
The group went on to become foundational members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
John Lewis’ early life of activism became the pattern of his entire life. Marches, demonstrations, Freedom Rides, Freedom Summer, Voter Registrations, politics and an refusal to allow injustice and inequality to exist unchallenged anywhere in America.
He demanded equal opportunity and a recognition of value of everyone. For those who are Black, those who are white, those who are female, those who are gay, and those who just are. Like his Mentor Dr. King, John Lewis believed in being a “creative extremist.” He believed in getting in good “trouble”.
And that would be the kind of trouble that broke unfair laws or drew attention to biased behavior or calling notice on corrupted politicians.
John Lewis spent 30 years in Congress but a lifetime in working for liberty for others. It is easy for some of us to look at what John Lewis and the others did in a prism, very detached from the realities of the circumstances of the time.
These people did what they did under the threat of death. The Civil Rights era — every day of it was filled with fire, violence, bombings, murders. It was that type of terrain. A landscape filled with not just shadows but darkness. You had to be a lion to survive it whether one was a man or woman.
That, no doubt, is one of the reasons these pioneers of the war for freedom were feared by the oppressors. Because it is more dangerous to face an army of sheep led by a lion than an army of lions led by a sheep.
CT Vivian and John Lewis never lost their fangs; they simply ran out of time.