ATLANTA—Dr. Charles Steele, Jr., president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the organization co-founded and first led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., issued the following statement today in response to the untimely death of former SCLC leader and civil rights icon Cordy Tindell Vivian, who died quietly this morning in his Atlanta home at the age of 95.
“C.T Vivian was a great storyteller. If you had anything to do in terms of wanting to converse with C.T. Vivian, you better cancel your appointments for the entire day. Vivian was so inspiring and so motivational in telling his story that you just sat at his feet listening to his encounters and the wisdom from all the experiences he was presented with as a divine direct from God. He was truly a man called by God to do what he did. He feared nothing whether it was withstanding violence from the sheriff in Dallas County to fighting on the front lines of the historic march in Selma. It was all for our right to vote, and he succeeded with nonviolence. He was a great leader. He was an icon. But he was the world’s greatest storyteller, sharing the stories of his experiences and how he relied on his wisdom to survive through the turbulent 60s. Ultimately, that wisdom played a crucial role in bringing about freedom in American for Black and poor folks. Without leaders like C.T. Vivian, there would be no civil rights movement as we know it. His courage and leadership paved the way for us today.”
Dr. Steele said he first met C.T. Vivian in 1964 when Dr. King sent him to Tuscaloosa to work with Rev. T.Y. Rogers, who was leading efforts to address racial tensions. At that time, locals were seeking integrate the city parks, water fountains, the 5- 10 store, and the courthouse.
Two decades later, Dr. Steele said he invited Vivian back to Tuscaloosa to endorse him for the city council.
“When the people heard he as coming to endorse me, there was an overflow at the church,” Dr. Steele said. “Ultimately, because of him, I became a state senator.”
Dr. Steele served as an elected official for 18 years. In 2004, after hearing about the financial plight and the potential collapse of the SCLC, he resigned from the senator and pursued the leadership of the SCLC. Under his guidance, the SCLC rebounded and secured a new headquarters and Vivian was one of his major supporters. When Dr. Steele and First Lady Cathelean Steele decided to take a sabbatical in 2009 from the SCLC. In 2012, Vivian asked Steele to return to the SCLC. After serving a brief stint as interim president, Vivian turned over the leadership to Dr. Steele and Dr. Steele has been the president and CEO since that transition.
“We worked closely together and with God’s intervention, we were able to take the SCLC to another level,” Dr. Steele said.