Joseph Lowery

AFP photos
David Goldman
Joseph Lowery

If you’ve been watching the news or listening to the radio lately you may have heard that a man by the name of Joseph Lowery passed recently, but did you know who this man was? Joseph Lowery was born on October 6th, 1921 in Huntsville, Alabama to LeRoy and Dora Lowery. As a teenager, he didn’t experience the extreme racism that some did, although he did get assaulted by police officers for refusing to let a white man enter a store before him. This experience started his platform in civil rights movements.
NY Times

He attended Knoxville college, Payne college, and Theological Seminary, before finally earning his doctorate at the Chicago Ecumenical Institute. After college, he married his wife Evelyn Gibson and they had three children, Yvonne, Karen, and Cheryl. He began his career as a pastor in 1952 at the Warren Street United Methodist Church located in Mobile, Alabama. Then after the arrest of Rosa Parks in 1955, he began his career in civil rights movements. Lowery helped lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott. After a successful protest against bus segregation in Mobile, he wanted to claim more victories against segregation. Lowery along with other black ministers met up in Atlanta at the Ebenezer Baptist Church. Their goal was to create a group to supply the civil rights movement with leadership. He worked closely with Marin Luther King Jr., Fred Shuttlesworth, and Ralph Abernathy. Together they formed a group called the SCLC or the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Their goal was to achieve social justice without using any form  of violence. Joseph Lowery was made the vice president of this group and then later named president after the death of Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1959 Lowery, Shuttlesworth, Abernathy, and Solomon Seay were sued for libel by the state of Alabama over an advertisement seen in the New York Times that was trying to raise funds for King’s defense against felony charges. The 4 men were found guilty and were ordered to pay $3 million and they had most of their property seized. However, the U.S. Supreme Court later reversed this order.
Stanley Wolfson
Selma to Montgomery march

In 1961, Lowery moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and started leading marches and sit-ins against segregation. In 1964, he moved back to Alabama where he took the position of pastor at the St. Paul United Methodist Church in Birmingham. At the request of Martin Luther King Jr., Lowery helped lead the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965. This was a 5-day long, 54-mile march where local African Americans, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference campaigned for voting rights. He was also the co-founder and former president of the Black Leadership Forum. This groups main focus was on protesting Apartheid in South Africa. South Africa had a set of laws, known as the Jim Crow laws, which was the act of doing a test that determined race through physical features and what language they spoke. This led him to be one of the first 5 African Americans to be arrested at the South African Embassy in Washington D.C. during the Free South Africa movement.
John Kuntz
Joseph Lowery and Jesse Jackson

He continued to support King up until his assassination in 1968. After King’s assassination, Lowery moved to Atlanta and became the pastor at Central United Methodist Church. He started working closely with Abernathy, the new president of SCLC. In 1977, Abernathy resigned and Lowery became the new president for 20 years. He turned the group’s focus on human rights issues in the Middle East and South Africa along with civil rights issues. In 1982, Lowery and Jesse Jackson led a march from Tuskegee, Alabama, to Washington, D.C., to promote the extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Joseph Lowery retired from his position of pastor in 1992 and left SCLC in 1997. He received a few awards including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In addition to this, he also received many honorary doctorates from colleges and universities, including  Dillard University, Morehouse College, Alabama State University, and the University of Alabama in Huntsville.  After the presidential election that led to Barack Obama being named president, Lowery said: “America tonight is in the process of being born again.” Later that following year, Obama awarded Lowery with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Lowery passed away on March 27th, 2020 due to natural causes. Former President Obama made a statement saying Lowery “changed the face of America.” In addition to that, he also said, “He carried the baton longer and surer than almost anybody. It falls to the rest of us now to pick it up and never stop moving forward until we finish what he started — that journey to justice.”

visionary projrct