Civil Rights Activist and Denominational Leader to Get Honorary Degrees

LeRoy Johnson C'54 S'60 (top), and Cordy Tindell (C. T.) Vivian (bottom)

CHICAGO, IL (April 11, 2007) – North Park University will present honorary degrees during Commencement on Saturday, May 12 to two people who have contributed to the cause of advancing the gospel.

LeRoy Johnson C'54 S'60 has benefited people around the world by matching donors with their desire to further the work of Christ through the ministries of the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) and North Park University. He will be honored with a doctor of humane letters degree.

Cordy Tindell (C. T.) Vivian was an associate of Martin Luther King, Jr. who made national headlines by standing up to the sheriff of Selma, Ala., and recently started Churches Helping Churches, an organization to help relief work for victims of Hurricane Katrina. He will be honored with a doctor of divinity degree.

Johnson is a 1954 graduate of North Park Junior College, and received his bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota. After graduating from North Park Theological Seminary in 1960, he served as pastor of the Lily Lake Covenant Church in Elgin, Ill.

From 1963 to 1965, he served as assistant director of development at North Park and was promoted to chief development officer, a post he held from 1965 to 1978. In the first year under his direction, alumni contributions doubled. He resurrected North Park's planned giving program and, in 1967, organized the President's Club.

Johnson also helped guide new denominational offices. From October 1978 to October 1995, he served the ECC as its first executive director of estate planning services and coordinated the estate planning programs of denomination, Covenant Benevolent Institutions, and North Park University. In 1988, Johnson founded Covenant Trust Company and served as its first president until 1995, when he was named president emeritus.

Johnson is a member of the Ministerium of the ECC and the Chicago Estate Planning Council. He has contributed his expertise to various nonprofit boards. Johnson and his wife, Carole, live in Glenview, Ill., and attend North Park Covenant Church in Chicago. They have two children and six grandchildren.

Vivian has promoted the cause of civil rights since he participated in his first sit-in demonstrations that successfully integrated Barton's Cafeteria in 1947 in Peoria, Ill. At the time, he was recreation director for the Carver Community Center in the city, his first job after graduating from Western Illinois University in Macomb.

While studying for the ministry at American Baptist College in Nashville, Tenn. in 1959, Vivian met Rev. James Lawson, who was teaching Mahatma Ghandhi's nonviolent direct action strategy to the Student Central Committee. Vivian and other students conducted a non-violent campaign that eventually led to 4,000 demonstrators marching on City Hall, where Mayor Ben West conceded that racial discrimination was morally wrong.

Many of the students became part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In 1961, Vivian was a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and participated in Freedom Rides, replacing injured members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).

Vivian was appointed to the executive staff of the SCLC in 1963, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. named him national director of affiliates. Two years later, in an incident that would make national news, Vivian confronted Sheriff Jim Clark on the steps of the Selma courthouse during a voter registration drive. After an impassioned speech by Vivian, Clark struck him on the mouth in front of television news crews, portraying Clark to the world as a racist. Bleeding from his mouth, Vivian continued to upbraid Clark until the sheriff ordered him arrested.

The assault was one of many televised outrages that helped pass the Voting Rights Act, but Vivian also sees the event in terms of the personal impact of Gandhi and King's philosophy of nonviolent direct action. "I would never run from anybody. That's one reason why I love nonviolence."

In 1969, Vivian wrote Black Power and the American Myth, an early influential book on the modern-day Civil Rights Movement. During these years, he also started the Vision program that sent students from Alabama to college. The program later came to be known as Upward Bound. By 1979, Vivian had organized and was serving as chairman of the board of the National Anti-Klan Network, which is known today as the Center for Democratic Renewal.

Vivian is also the founder of the Black Action Strategies and Information Center (BASIC), a workplace consultancy on race relations and multicultural training. Vivian recently launched the organization Churches Supporting Churches to respond to needs of the victims and churches affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Vivian and Johnson will be honored during Commencement on Saturday, May 12 at 10 a.m. in the North Park University Gymnasium.