In 2005, the Fayette County Branch, NAACP, had the distinct privilege of having Rev. C.T. Vivian as the keynote speaker for our 8th Annual Freedom Fund Banquet.
A youthful looking Reverend Vivian was about 80 years old at the time and he spoke about his courageous activism in the civil rights movement of the 1950s, ’60s and beyond.
If you have ever seen the video footage of his encounter with Sheriff Jim Clark in Selma, Alabama in 1965, you can appreciate a man who was bold enough to steadily confront a sheriff who was hell bent on denying Negroes the right to register to vote.
Rev. C.T. Vivian stood his ground and was violently assaulted by the sheriff with a billy club and knocked to the ground. Undeterred, he got right back up and continued to confront the sheriff until he was finally arrested and jailed.
Rev. C.T. Vivian, who recently passed away at the age of 95, was a vital part of the motivation to pursue district voting in Fayette County, Georgia.
In 2011, Congressman John Lewis agreed to be the keynote speaker for our 14h Annual Freedom Fund Banquet. He spoke passionately about the courage it took to endure the hateful brutality and consistently remain peaceful and non-violent.
A few years earlier, we had held a book signing in Fayetteville where Congressman Lewis autographed his book, “Walking With The Wind.”
In this book John Lewis talks about his humble beginnings where the home he lived in was very vulnerable to strong winds. He and his siblings had to walk with the wind to hold the house down during a windstorm.
Before and during my service as Branch president from 2008 through 2016, I gained a profound admiration and respect for Congressman Lewis. Having studied the historic struggle for civil rights, I was even more inspired thereafter to relentlessly advocate for district voting in Fayette County.
Racially biased county leaders knew that the black vote would always be diluted by the at-large voting process. This resulted in the inability for any black candidate to have a fair chance to get elected.
I also discovered that back in the mid-1960s, John Lewis and other Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) members traveled the South and came to my hometown, Americus, Georgia, to organize marches where I was a participant as a child.
I can only wish I had been able to meet him way back then. Congressman John Lewis also recently passed away at the age of 80. Both of these humble men will be missed.
Reflecting on the progress we have seen because of the advocacy and courage of Rev. C.T. Vivian and Congressman John Lewis, we shall be forever indebted to them for their unselfish dedication to civil rights.
We also owe a debt of gratitude to Rev. Ed Johnson for establishing the annual award entitled the John Lewis Freedom Fighter Award. This very special award is reserved for those who have demonstrated the unselfish ability to actively advocate for civil rights.
John E. Jones
Former President of Fayette County Branch, NAACP