Emory’s C.T. Vivian papers provide rich resources for classes, films, plays

By Maureen McGavin | Aug. 3, 2021

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C.T. Vivian views Emory’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) exhibition in 2013 with co-curators Sarah Quigley, the Rose Library project archivist for the SCLC collection (left), and Carol Anderson, Emory professor of African American Studies (right). Credit: Emory Photo/Video.

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A collection of Rev. C.T. Vivian’s papers in the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Books Library has seen a recent jump in activity, with new material added from the family, research conducted for an upcoming documentary and instructional use by Emory classes.

The materials have been in particularly high demand since the civil rights activist passed away on July 17, 2020, at age 95. The C.T. and Octavia Vivian papers were originally placed with the Rose Library in 2014, containing notes and articles pertaining to civil rights activities and issues; Octavia’s work on “Coretta,” a biography she wrote about Coretta Scott King; congressional materials related to the creation of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday; as well as periodicals, C.T.’s outlines for speeches and notes he jotted on napkins and event programs, and other ephemera. Much of the material was collected by Octavia Vivian, who passed away in 2011. 

Additions to the collection

The additions, which arrived earlier this year and more than doubled the size of the collection, include audiovisual and printed material, calendars, correspondence, photographs, notes and speeches. C.T. Vivian created most of this material. There are also many handwritten notes by Vivian as he composed his sermons.

The Rose Library also houses several books from Vivian’s personal collection. (The C.T. and Octavia Vivian Museum and Archives has a large collection of his books as well and plans to open a library to make them available to the public.)

“The Rose Library is honored to be entrusted by the Vivian family with this major addition to the Vivian papers, which are central to our African American and civil rights collections,” says Rose Library director Jennifer Gunter King.

“The papers, preserved by the Rose team,” observes King, “will be made available to generations of students, scholars and artists who seek to understand the Vivians’ story. In addition, the papers give us a sense of how essential history is to our lives, to our efforts to bring insights from the Vivian papers into our present and future.”

Vivian also worked with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), whose papers are housed at the Rose Library, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which was instrumental in the Freedom Rides busing protests and lunch counter sit-ins in the early 1960s.

Clinton Fluker, Rose Library curator of African American collections, says the additions include many items that pertain to Vivian’s life as an activist. He is excited to see the tie-ins researchers will make with current-day struggles against voting restrictions, excessive policing and other forms of racism.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the connections that can be made through teaching, instruction and research,” Fluker says. “Vivian was a strategist in the civil rights movement and somebody who really had a deep sense of history, industry and politics. He helped us grow as a nation through his activism, his teachings, his sermons and through the organizations that he ran. Much of the work he focused on is still relevant today and these papers will help people draw those connections.”

Upcoming documentary

Vivian is one of the subjects of a documentary film created by filmmaker Eddy Von Mueller, a former Emory film and media studies senior lecturer, and the late Pellom McDaniels III, former Rose Library curator of African American collections. “Into the Archives: Small Steps – C.T. Vivian, Upward Bound and the Fight for Educational Opportunity” will debut at the online BronzeLens Film Festival Aug. 17-22.

The film, which includes interviews with Vivian, weaves together his involvement with the civil rights movement in the 1960s; his founding of Project Vision (now Upward Bound), which focused on keeping Black high school students in school and interested in college; and a terrifying confrontation with the KKK during a trip to St. Augustine by a group of young people participating in the program at Emory in 1969.

It will also be shown during In the Wake of Slavery and Dispossession, a symposium slated this fall on the Emory and Oxford campuses, which Dean and University Librarian Yolanda Cooper calls “an ideal context for audiences to view this meaningful work.”

Mueller recalls poring over the Vivian collection in the Rose Library with McDaniels as they conducted research for the film. McDaniels, who co-wrote and narrated the film and conducted on-camera interviews, passed away in February 2020, before the project could be completed.

“The depth and variety of materials in the collection is incredible, and it offers so many opportunities to approach our shared past from new angles, to find the kind of unexpected connections that make this work so rewarding,” says Mueller.

“Sometimes, sitting right next to the document or poster you thought was that morning’s Holy Grail, there would be this other item — a photo, a clipping, a statement in the minutes of some meeting — and the next thing you knew, you were galloping down a whole new trail. That kind of serendipity is irreplaceable, especially for a documentary filmmaker, and the Rose Library is a great place to find it,” Mueller notes.

Musical play

The Vivian collection previously played a role in “For Peace I Rise,” a musical play about the love story of C.T. and Octavia Vivian, two young civil rights activists who shared a commitment to the principles of nonviolent protest and their Christian faith. It was written by Thomas W. Jones II, with music composed by William Knowles and S. Renee Clarke. Theater Emory performed a reading of the musical on Jan. 25, 2020, with Vivian and his family in the audience.

Jones said in a follow-up panel that he based the play on his interviews with Vivian, then visited the Rose Library to gather details about marches, speeches and other parts of the activist’s life.

“[The Vivian collection] was enormously helpful in filling out all of the details,” Jones says. “There was so much information about how they prepared to march, what the components were, whose job it was, how organized the workshops were for nonviolent direct confrontation. You began to realize that this was not haphazard, but it was clearly defined.”

Class and curriculum use

Several classes at Emory, such as the creative writing course Writing about Race and the English class Lines and Design: The Poetry of Digital Culture, already have drawn on the Vivian collection. Fluker looks forward to more students and faculty spending time with the materials and imagines theology and business students finding value in the archive.

“It opens up an incredible capacity for learning about his life but also demonstrates how ahead of the curve he was on certain issues like race and social justice in the workplace, and how to deal with diversity and inclusion, how to think about equal access to education in this country,” says Fluker.

In addition, a college-level curriculum about C.T. Vivian based on two of his books has been developed and will be used this year by Emory and other universities in the Atlanta area. The curriculum was developed by the C.T. and Octavia Vivian Museum and Archives and Adar Cohen, who has developed other curricula and lectured on civil rights history, conflict resolution and strategic nonviolence at DePaul University, University of Chicago and Harvard University.

Robert M. Franklin Jr., the Laney Chair in Moral Leadership at Candler School of Theology, plans to use a portion of the curriculum for a unit on Vivian in the graduate seminar Religion, Ethics, and Public Intellectuals. The Rose Library is in talks to include class access to the collection as part of that curriculum, Fluker says.

Going forward, Fluker hopes the Rose Library can develop a way to share the C.T. Vivian materials with K-12 schools, similar to its traveling exhibit program in public schools.

“The Vivian collection is so significant because it documents the story of one of our country’s most lauded families in the civil rights movementthe work they did, the sacrifices they made and the vision of equality they struggled so tirelessly to make a reality,” Fluker says.