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From Young Troublemakers to Legends: Celebrating the Legacies of CT Vivian and John Lewis

Bayard Rustin, the co-founder of the A. Philip Randolph Institute and organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, once said, “We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers.”

The lives of these two giants, Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian, and Congressman John Lewis, were shaped by their belief in the value of all people, regardless of the color of their skin, or their economic standing. In fact, it was the historic struggle for racial justice that powered their commitment to fight oppression no matter the sacrifices, and no matter how long the battle.

Both began their lifelong work as young men.

In 1947 at age 23, Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian participated in his first nonviolent protest at a lunch counter sit-in in Peoria, Illinois. He continued his work during the sixties fully engaged with the Freedom Riders from Montgomery, Alabama, to Jackson, Mississippi, registering Black folks to vote in Selma; and working alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., during a series of campaigns against segregation in Memphis, Tennessee. His voice echoed a constant message, “In no way would we allow non-violence to be destroyed by violence.” It was his mantra throughout his entire life.

Also, at age 23, John Lewis made history in 1963 as the youngest speaker during the historic March on Washington, standing beside giants Asa Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. With fire in his belly, he continued his fight at marches across the state of Alabama, including the most brutal march in Selma crossing the Edmund Pettis Bridge, where he was beaten nearly to the point of losing his life.

He later became the congressman from Georgia and the longest-serving member of the Congressional Black Caucus. But he never forgot what he was fighting for Americans’ rights. He fought for the marginalized communities throughout the nation. And, he never forgot what he was fighting against, racial and social injustice.

One of his last public appearances outside of Congress, was him standing on the freshly dried, boldly emblazoned artwork in yellow words, “BLACK LIVES MATTER” on the newly named Black Lives Matter Plaza…just across the park from the White House. When asked what message he would give to the young protesters, Congressman Lewis said, “You must be able and prepared to give until you cannot give any more. Keep making good trouble.”

He made enough good trouble until his last breath…which still sits on the desk of Senator Mitch McConnell for signature.

Rev. C.T. Vivian and Congressman John Lewis inspired a legacy of “troublemaking” for future generations to emulate.

Both “trouble makers” were rewarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest honor, bestowed upon them by the first African American President Barack Obama…who recognized and acknowledged, “that if not for them, he would not be.”

Both men were lifetime friends to Asa Philip Randolph and remained friends with the A. Philip Randolph Institute until their death.

We share with their families in mourning their loss and in celebrating their lives.

Rest in Peace, “Angelic Troublemakers.”

Clayola Brown s the first female president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, the oldest constituency group of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), which has promoted racial equality and economic justice since its founding in 1965. The organization was founded by Randolph and Bayard Rustin.

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