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The Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian, WIU President Jack Thomas and Al Vivian at the official dedication ceremony for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. in October 2011.
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Commentary: Rev. Dr. Cordy Tindell "C.T." Vivian

August 16, 2013

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From Dr. Jack Thomas, President, Western Illinois University

On August 8, 2013, President Barack Obama announced the 16 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients. The Presidential Medal of Freedom was established by John F. Kennedy in 1963, and the award has been given to more than 500 individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the security and national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. Among these awardees was Western Illinois University's own the Rev. Dr. Cordy Tindell "C.T." Vivian, a distinguished, author, organizer, and civil rights icon.

Dr. Vivian was born in Missouri, but his family moved to Macomb, Illinois because they wanted his formative years to occur in a college town where there were better opportunities for formal education. While much of his life and work has been overshadowed by others who participated in the movement, the Rev. Dr. Vivian's work has been appreciated by insiders of the civil rights movement. In an essay written by the Rev. Vivian, Hard Hats and Black Men, he shed light on growing up without his father, the beauty and strength of his mother and grandmother, and overcoming being bullied in grade school. Dr. Vivian's essay also covered relocating to Peoria, Illinois, then Nashville, Tennessee, and his work with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The essay provides insight into the inner workings of Dr. Vivian and the influences and experiences that shaped him.

I have gained valuable insight from the Rev. Dr. Vivian, and I see him as a role model for all Americans, but for African American males in particular. Being born and raised in the small black belt farming community of Lowndes County, Alabama, I grew up seeing some of the remnants of fervent discrimination and being formally and informally educated about the struggle for equality. The Lowndes County community had been in the center of the struggle for black voting rights in Alabama, and I understand the sacrifices that C.T. Vivian made for the civil rights movement and other humanitarian causes. We are greatly honored to have Dr. Vivian as a lasting symbol of the heights that one can achieve after study at Western Illinois University. His dignity, class, and grace are the embodiment of how we want our students and graduates to conduct themselves. The Rev. Dr. Vivian's service for the greater good of humanity is my goal for our University community and all individuals who are affiliated with us.

When I assumed the helm of the presidency of Western Illinois University in 2011, I quickly came to know C.T. Vivian as a kind, wise, and gentle warrior. He attended my presidential inauguration, and at the ceremony, Dr. Vivian offered memorable, eloquent, and noteworthy comments. As the 11th president of Western Illinois University, I want to congratulate the Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian on receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom. We have honored this gentle warrior at Western Illinois University by naming the street that passes the student Union and the Multicultural Center "Dr. C.T. Vivian Way," and with an honorary doctorate, which was awarded to Dr. Vivian in 1986, by the late WIU President Leslie Malpass.

As president of Western Illinois University, I must say that the University is proud of its native son. C.T. Vivian will remain a vanguard of the civil rights movement in America and a shining example of excellence of education from this University.

President Jack Thomas, Ph.D.
Western Illinois University

Posted By: WIU News (
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