Knoxville Civil Rights leaders remember Rep. John Lewis and C.T. Vivian

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)– Two Knoxville Civil Rights leaders were friends with both Congressman John Lewis and the Reverend Dr. C.T. Vivian.

Both of the late Civil Rights leaders died July 17, leaving the world with fewer activists who made huge strides for equal rights.

Dedicated, selfless and fearless are just a few words to describe the two late Civil Rights leaders.

Reverend Harold Middlebrook marched alongside both Lewis and Vivian. His memories of them go all the way back to Selma, Alabama.

“Jim Clark, the Sheriff, just turns around and with just his bigger clip, just hits him in the face and he’s bleeding but he keeps talking. One of the things about C.T. is he talked fast because he had a lot to say,” Middlebrook said.

Dewey Roberts, former NAACP president of the Knoxville Chapter, said both Lewis and Vivian had a tireless dedication to the movement.

“Just great guys, great thinkers. You know, people don’t realize how much effort and time was put into the demonstrations, to the movement itself. So it was a lot of hard work and sacrifice,” Roberts said.

He said the two never stopped fighting with the same passion in their later years as they did in the 60’s.

“They just had an energy, but I just can’t explain it. But it was something about them that made them different. And the fact that they were able to go ahead and do things without fear. There was no fear then,” Roberts said.

Middlebrook saw the same characteristics in Vivan and Lewis as well.

He said that although Vivian didn’t continue the fight via political office, he never stopped fighting for equal rights.

The Rev. C.T. Vivian. Photo courtesy of Rev. Harold Middlebrook.

Middlebrook said that Lewis was also still pushing for civil right’s in Congress.

In fact, he said, a bill of Lewis’ to restore and expand the voting rights act was currently sitting on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk.

“The fact that he is not there. I don’t know anybody that is in the Congress right now who could push that legislation with the emotion, with the sense of purpose and direction that he could,” Middlebrook said.

Middlebrook and Roberts said the civil unrest in the country right now is similar to what they faced in the 60’s.

Roberts said that the biggest difference between now and then is the media coverage and word of mouth via social media.

Middlebrook said the difference is that Vivian and Lewis saw the full picture of what the future should look like.

Rev. Harold Middlebrook on the far left with Congressman John Lewis in the middle.

“The young people now, they have the fervor, and that’s important. But make sure you can define where we’re going, how we’re going to get there and when do we know we’re there,” Middlebrook said.

Both Lewis and Vivian visited East Tennessee over the years.

Lewis was at the opening of the Green McAdoo Center in Clinton in 2006.

Vivian visited more recently in 2014 for the 50th anniversary of the Civil Right’s Act.

Middlebrook and Roberts said both late Civil Rights leaders helped set up the Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations in Knoxville when the events were first organized.

Congressman John Lewis with Rev. Harold Middlebrook.

The two said the world will not be the same without Lewis and Vivian.

They hope the next generation will continue to follow in their footsteps, but they know at least the messages of not putting people down and instead of surviving together will live on.

“Even though both of those icons have left, those ideas, their ideas and what they do, what they did at that time, will continue with us,” Roberts said.

“I don’t know that we have a voice that is respected as John Lewis’ or CT Vivian’s that can push the way they did. And so, the nation is going to miss both of these gentlemen significantly. I miss them already,” Middlebrook said.


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