Joseph Ellwanger

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Joseph Ellwanger
Personal details
Born (1934-02-18) February 18, 1934 (age 85)
Selma, Alabama, United States
ResidenceMilwaukee, Wisconsin
Alma materConcordia Seminary
OccupationPastor, Civil Rights Activist
Awards include the Human Rights Award from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Pastor Joseph "Joe" W. Ellwanger, Jr. (b. 1934) is a Lutheran pastor, author and civil rights activist. He was a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham, Alabama, and the only white religious leader included in strategy meetings with Martin Luther King, Jr.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Born in 1934, Ellwanger spent part of his childhood in Selma, Alabama, where his father was a pastor and President of Alabama Lutheran Academy and College. Ellwanger graduated from Concordia Seminary.[2]


From 1958 to 1967, Ellwanger served as pastor of the African-American church St. Paul Lutheran in Birmingham. During that time, Ellwanger became colleagues with Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ellwanger answered the call of King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to recruit students and clergy to join the movement in Selma to take part in the march for voting rights from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery. Ellwanger took part in mass meetings, involving himself and members of his congregation in Civil Rights activities, and ultimately took a leadership role in community organizing. Ellwanger helped Martin Luther King, Jr. and others plan the Birmingham demonstrations and helped organize the Saturday, March 6, 1965 march in Selma, Alabama to support voting rights.[3]

Ellwanger was the only white minister in Birmingham who took such an active role in supporting equal rights for African Americans.[4] Ellwanger spoke at the funeral for one of the four girls who was killed in the church bombing, where Dr. King delivered the eulogy.[5]

King included Ellwanger in a group of 15 pastors that met with Governor George Wallace. Ellwanger also met with President Lyndon B. Johnson to voice support for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.[6]

In 1967, Ellwanger left for Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he served as Pastor of Cross Lutheran Church until 2001.[7] In 1969, Ellwanger worked with the Black Panther Party to expand the free breakfast program in Milwaukee.[8] In 1970, Ellwanger founded the prison ministry "Project RETURN," with the mission of aiding and rehabilitating citizens returning from incarceration.[9] After retiring from Cross Lutheran, Ellwanger spent a decade as a grassroots organizer for WISDOM, a statewide coalition of social justice groups in Wisconsin. Ellwanger founded WISDOM’s statewide Reform Our Communities (ROC) Campaign to reform Wisconsin’s criminal justice system.

In 2008, Ellwanger was named as the recipient of the Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award. It is the highest honor bestowed on an individual by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.[10]

Ellwanger was a recipient of the 2016 Social Innovation Prize from Interfaith Older Adult Programs. The award included $10,000 to continue his work to end mass incarceration in Wisconsin.[11]


Ellwanger has been a subject in a number of books, including King: A Biography by David Levering Lewis, Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965 by Juan Williams, Kids in Birmingham 1963, and On the Road to Freedom: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail by Charles E. Cobb Jr.

  • Pastor Joseph Ellwanger (2014-12-10). Strength for the Struggle: Insights from the Civil Rights Movement and Urban Ministry. HenschelHAUS Publishing. ISBN 978-1-595-98296-4.


  1. ^ "Joseph Ellwanger: "Strength for the Struggle" - WBHM 90.3".
  2. ^ mulvennk (3 November 2014). "Joseph Ellwanger "Strength for the Struggle"" – via YouTube.
  3. ^ "Ellwanger, Joseph".
  4. ^ Gray, Jeremy (November 14, 2008) "Birmingham institute to honor the Rev. Ellwanger for early civil rights support." Birmingham News
  5. ^ Heinen, Tom (January 17, 2004) "Bombing revealed the danger of silence." Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
  6. ^ Talks at Google (10 August 2016). "Rev. Joseph Ellwanger: "Strength for the Struggle" - Talks At Google" – via YouTube.
  7. ^ "Cross Lutheran Church :: Pastor Emeritus Joseph Ellwanger".
  8. ^ "Comrades: A Local History of the Black Panther Party" Judson L. Jeffries, Indiana University Press, Dec 25, 2007
  9. ^ Phil Brooks (5 March 2013). "Origins: by Joe & Joyce" – via YouTube.
  10. ^ Garrison, Greg (November 1, 2008) "Rev. Joseph Ellwanger to receive Shuttlesworth leadership award." Birmingham News
  11. ^ "Interfaith Announces 2016 Winner of the $10,000 Social Innovation Prize in Wisconsin - Interfaith Older Adult Programs". 17 October 2016.

External links[edit]