December 14, 2020 HUMAN RIGHTS

Human Rights Heroes: John Lewis, C. T. Vivian, James Charles Evers, and Mimi Jones

by Rebecca M. Collins

The summer of 2020 claimed the lives of numerous civil rights activists, leaving heartbreak throughout the community. We saw the loss of the prominent civil rights leader Congressman John Lewis, a figure who loomed large his entire life and whose name is instantly recognizable. His death shocked and devastated the country, leaving behind a powerful legacy of civil rights activism.

We have lost several unsung heroes and activists as well, all who were paramount to the success of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Not all carry name recognition, but all were vital to the promotion of civil rights and equality in this country.

As the nation’s attention is again turned toward racial equality and justice following the murder of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests, we cannot forget the inspirational stories and sacrifices that came from those before us. 

John Lewis, C. T. Vivian, James Charles Evers, and Mimi Jones

John Lewis, C. T. Vivian, James Charles Evers, and Mimi Jones

U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, HOWARD MORLAND, AND U.S. NAVY, KEVIN S. O'BRIEN ON WIKIMEDIA / ENCUENTRO5

Reverend Cordy Tindell Vivian, who passed on July 17, 2020, the same day as John Lewis, saw racism as a moral issue. His strong religious upbringing called him to a life in the ministry, but he used this position to continue fighting in the struggle for racial equality.

As an early organizer during the civil rights movement, C. T. Vivian was essential in laying the groundwork for the movement. In 1955, he and other ministers founded the Nashville Christian Leadership Conference, which helped organize the city’s first sit-ins and civil rights march in 1961. Vivian participated in the Freedom Rides and worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr.

Civil rights leaders meet with President
John F. Kennedy after the March on
Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963.
John Lewis is fourth from left.

Civil rights leaders meet with President John F. Kennedy after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963. John Lewis is fourth from left.

OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE PHOTO, CECIL W. STOUGHTON ON WIKIMEDIA

Even after the height of the civil rights movement, Vivian worked toward racial equality and justice. He founded the National Anti-Klan Network, an anti-racism organization originally dedicated to monitoring the Ku Klux Klan, which quickly grew in size and mission. Reverend C. T. Vivian was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

Within the same week as the losses of Reverend C. T. Vivian and former Congressman John Lewis, another civil rights activist, James Charles Evers, died.

On July 22, 2020, Evers died at 97 years old. After the assassination of his civil rights activist brother, Evers gave up his life as a racketeer to follow in his footsteps. Evers succeeded his brother as the field director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Mississippi in 1963.

Evers organized registration drives for Black voters and economic boycotts against white businesses. In 1969, he was named “Man of the Year” by the NAACP, and later that same year, he was elected mayor of Fayette, Mississippi, becoming the first Black man to hold that position in over a century. His work as a civil rights activist in Mississippi gained attention for mobilizing Black voter power.

Not a week after the loss of Evers came the loss of Mimi Jones.

Mimi Jones was 73 years old when she passed away on July 26, 2020, but was only 17 when she was at the forefront of the largely forgotten St. Augustine swim-in protests of 1964. Jones was one of the youngest protesters to put her body on the line in the St. Augustine protests, but she already had years of activism under her belt.

Jones and six other activists took a stand against segregation by leaping into a white-only motel pool in St. Augustine, Florida, the day before the Senate was set to vote on the Civil Rights Act. In response, the motel manager poured muriatic acid, a cleaning agent, into the pool. Diluted by the water, no one was seriously injured by the acid, but Jones and her fellow protesters were hauled off to jail. Photos of this event surfaced the following day and are widely credited in helping receive support and a decisive victory for the Civil Rights Act. 

Rebecca M. Collins

ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice Summer 2020 Intern

Rebecca M. Collins is a student at Elon University obtaining her B.A. in Human Service Studies. She interned with the American Bar Association Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice during the summer of 2020.