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Archbishop Gregory mourns loss of two Civil Rights icons

Rep. John Lewis of Georgia is shown in a scene from the documentary "John Lewis: Good Trouble" about the longtime racial equality activist and member of Congress. (CNS photo/courtesy Magnolia Pictures)

In a July 18 tweet, Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory mourned the loss of two Civil Rights icons who died the day before -- Rep. John Lewis and Rev. C.T. Vivian.

In the tweet, Archbishop Gregory said, “July 17th two Civil Rights champions crossed over to the fullness of God's kingdom. C.T. Vivian and John Lewis helped our nation realize our calling to be a home for justice for all people. They served our country in many ways -- always with valor and hope. May God grant them rest.”

Rep. Lewis, 80, was the son of Alabama sharecroppers and was elected to represent Georgia in Congress in 1986 after decades of civil rights leadership. He led the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in sit-ins and demonstrations for voting rights and other racial justice issues. His skull was fractured on “Bloody Sunday” on March 7, 1965, when police used billy clubs and tear gas on protesters on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

The congressman's biography on his website noted, “Despite more than 40 arrests, physical attacks and serious injuries,  John Lewis remained a devoted advocate of the philosophy of nonviolence.”

At 23, he was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington in 1963, where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream Speech.” 

As a member of Congress, Rep. Lewis played a key role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and the authorization for the construction of the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Rep. Lewis received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2010. In 2019, he announced he was battling pancreatic cancer.

Rev. Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian died of natural causes on July 17 in Atlanta at the age of 95.

Like Rep. Lewis, he worked for civil rights alongside Dr. King. A native of Missouri, Rev. Vivian studied in the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville and organized sit-ins and marches in that city as part of an affiliate of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He participated in the Freedom Rides and marched for voting rights in Selma.

Rev. Vivian, a renowned preacher, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013 from President Obama.

Archbishop Gregory, who was installed as the archbishop of Washington in 2019, is the first African American prelate to serve in that role. He served as the archbishop of Atlanta from 2005 to 2019, until Pope Francis appointed him to lead the Archdiocese of Washington. The former president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Gregory has been a leading voice in the Catholic Church for racial justice.