Joseph Lowery

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Joseph Lowery
Joseph Lowery 2000.jpg
3rd President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
In office
Preceded byRalph Abernathy
Succeeded byMartin Luther King III
Personal details
Joseph Echols Lowery

(1921-10-06) October 6, 1921 (age 98)
Huntsville, Alabama, U.S.
Spouse(s)Evelyn Gibson (1950–2013)
ChildrenLeroy, Joseph Jr. Yvonne, Karen and Cheryl
Known forCivil Rights Movement
AwardsPresidential Medal of Freedom 2009
AffiliationsGeorgia's Coalition for the People's Agenda;
Alabama Civic Affairs Association;
Black Leadership Forum;
Lowery Institute

Joseph Echols Lowery (born October 6, 1921) is an American minister in the United Methodist Church and leader in the Civil Rights Movement. He later became the third president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, after Martin Luther King Jr. and his immediate successor, Ralph Abernathy, and participated in most of the major activities of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.


Joseph E. Lowery was born to Leroy and Dora Lowery on October 6, 1921. He attended middle school in Chicago while staying with relatives, but he returned to Huntsville, Alabama, to complete William Hooper Councill High School. He next attended the Knoxville College and Alabama A&M College.Lowery next entered the Paine Theological Seminary to become a Methodist minister. Lowery is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.

Later on, he completed a doctorate of divinity degree at the Chicago Ecumenical Institute.[1] He married Evelyn Gibson in 1950, a civil rights activist and leader in her own right. She was the sister of the late Harry Gibson, an activist, and elder member of the Northern Illinois conference of the United Methodist Church, Chicago area. She died on September 26, 2013. They had three daughters: Yvonne Kennedy, Karen Lowery, and Cheryl Lowery-Osborne.[2]

American civil rights career[edit]

Lowery was pastor of the Warren Street Methodist Church,[3] in Mobile, Alabama, from 1952 to 1961. His career in the Civil Rights Movement began in the early 1950s in Mobile, Alabama. After Rosa Parks' arrest in 1955, he helped lead the Montgomery bus boycott. He headed the Alabama Civic Affairs Association, an organization devoted to the desegregation of buses and public places. In 1957, along with Martin Luther King Jr., Lowery founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and subsequently led the organization as its president from 1977 to 1997.

Lowery's property was seized in 1959 along with that of other civil rights leaders by the State of Alabama as part of the settlement of a libel suit. The Supreme Court of the United States later ordered this court decision to be reversed. At the request of King, Lowery participated in the Selma to Montgomery march of 1965. He is a co-founder and former president of the Black Leadership Forum, a consortium of black advocacy groups. This Forum protested the existence of Apartheid in South Africa from the mid-1970s through the end of the white-minority rule there. Lowery was among the first five black men to be arrested outside the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C., during the Free South Africa movement. He served as the pastor of Cascade United Methodist Church in Atlanta from 1986 through 1992, adding over a thousand members and leaving the church with 10 acres (40,000 m2) of land.

Lowery retired from the ministry, but remains politically active and in Christian activities.

To honor him, the city government of Atlanta renamed Ashby Street for him. Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard is just west of downtown Atlanta and runs north-south beginning at West Marietta Street near the campus of the Georgia Institute of Technology and stretching to White Street in the "West End" neighborhood, running past Atlanta's Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Clark Atlanta University, Spelman College, Morehouse College, and Morris Brown College. Perhaps not coincidentally, this street intersects both Martin Luther King Jr., Drive and the Ralph David Abernathy Expressway.

Lowery has advocated for LGBT civil rights,[4] including civil unions and, in 2012, same-sex marriage.[5]


Lowery meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House in 2011

Lowery has received several awards. The NAACP gave him an award at its 1997 convention for, "dean of the civil rights movement," and Lifetime Achievement Award. He has also received the Martin Luther King Jr. Center Peace Award and the National Urban League's Whitney M. Young Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award, in 2004. Ebony has named him one of the 15 greatest black preachers, describing him as, "the consummate voice of biblical social relevancy, a focused voice, speaking truth to power." Lowery has also received several honorary doctorates from colleges and universities including, Dillard University, Morehouse College, Alabama State University, University of Alabama in Huntsville, and Emory University. Lowery was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama, on July 30, 2009.[6] He was also given the Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute that year.[7]

In 2004, Lowery was honored at the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, located in Atlanta, Georgia.

Remarks at Coretta Scott King's funeral[edit]

In 2006, at Coretta Scott King's funeral, Lowery received a standing ovation when he remarked before four U.S. presidents in attendance:

We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there. But Coretta knew and we know that there are weapons of misdirection right down here. Millions without health insurance. Poverty abounds. For war billions more but no more for the poor!

Conservative observers claimed his comments were inappropriate in a setting meant to honor the life of Mrs. King, especially considering George W. Bush was present at the ceremony.[8][9] None of Mrs. King's family has objected to Lowery's words.[10]

President Barack Obama's inauguration benediction[edit]

On January 20, 2009, Lowery delivered the benediction at the inauguration of Senator Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America. He opened with lines from "Lift Every Voice and Sing", also known as "The Negro National Anthem", by James Weldon Johnson. He concluded with the following, an interpolation of Big Bill Broonzy's "Black, Brown and White":

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get [in] back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. Let all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen! Say Amen! And Amen! [11]

A number of conservative pundits including Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin criticized this final passage, accusing it of being "divisive" [12] and "racialist."[13][14][15] Reporters in attendance called the passage a mocking of racial stereotypes, and said that the crowd received it with good humor.[16][17][18]


Lowery was criticized by other pastors for comments made on October 27, 2012 at a get-out-the-vote event for Barack Obama. Lowery told the audience "that when he was a young militant, he used to say all white folks were going to hell. Then he mellowed and just said most of them were. Now, he said, he is back to where he was", according to an October 31 report in the Monroe County Reporter.[19] He also said, ""I don't know what kind of a n****r wouldn't vote with a black man running" during the same rally. Lowery held a press conference soon after and said that the "all whites are going to hell" statement was a joke he has told many times before. Former UN Ambassador Andrew Young supported Lowery at the conference.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Haskins, Jim; Kathleen Benson (2008). Black Stars: African-American Religious Leaders. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. p. 91.
  2. ^ "Civil rights activist Evelyn Lowery dies after stroke". CNN. Retrieved 26 September 2013.
  3. ^ "Negroes Plan Mass Meeting In Mobile". St. Petersburg Times. Associated Press. 2 January 1957. p. 3. Retrieved 20 May 2012.
  4. ^ Caldwell, Gilbert H. (4 May 2000). "The Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, Former President of SCLC Signs the United Methodists of Color for a Fully Inclusive Church Statement". Affirmation: United Methodists for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns. Archived from the original on 21 December 2008.
  5. ^ "Open Letter Embracing President Obama's Position On Equality for Gay & Lesbian Individuals - National Action Network". Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  6. ^ "President Obama Names Medal of Freedom Recipients", White House Office of the Press Secretary, July 30, 2009
  7. ^ MacDonald, Ginny (August 8, 2009) "Civil rights pioneer Lowery to be honored." Birmingham News
  8. ^ Greenfield, Jeff (2006-02-08). "Greenfield: 'Do you really do this at a funeral?'". CNN. Retrieved 2009-01-11.
  9. ^ Matthews, Chris (2006-02-07). "'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Feb. 7th". Hardball with Chris Matthews. Retrieved 2009-01-11.
  10. ^ Blitzer, Wolf (2003-01-14). "Coretta Scott King: Use peaceful means for peaceful ends". CNN. Retrieved 2009-01-11.
  11. ^ "Text of Rev. Lowery's inauguration benediction". AP. January 20, 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-20.
  12. ^ Beck, Glenn (January 20, 2009). "Is This How the Post-Racial Obama Administration Begins?". FOXNews. Retrieved 2009-01-21.
  13. ^ "About that race-based benediction: "When white will embrace what is right"". Michelle Malkin. January 20, 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-23.
  14. ^ "Prayers for America's day of celebration". Anglican Media Melbourne. January 21, 2009. Archived from the original on April 24, 2010. Retrieved 2009-01-21.
  15. ^ "Inaugural Benediction Causes Firestorm". January 21, 2009. Archived from the original on January 25, 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-21.
  16. ^ Kaufman, Jonathan (January 21, 2009). "Celebration Stirs a New Racial Optimism". "The Rev. Joseph Lowery, in his closing prayer, drew laughter when he mocked racial stereotypes and prayed for a day "when black will not be asked to get back...". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2009-01-22.
  17. ^ Grossman, Cathy Lynn (January 20, 2009). "Rev. Joseph Lowery's impassioned benediction". "Lowery also brought a smile to the president with a recitation he's used before, asking God to ...". USA Today. Retrieved 2009-01-22.
  18. ^ Mikkelsen, Randall (January 20, 2009). "Front Row Washington Tracking U.S. politics " Previous Post Next Post " January 20th, 2009 Rhyming reverend gets last word at Obama inaugural". "...what is right," Lowery said to laughter from the vast audience.". Reuters (News Wire). Archived from the original on January 24, 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-22.
  19. ^ "Obama's inauguration reverend: All whites are going to hell". "Obama's inauguration reverend: All whites are going to hell". Daily Caller. October 31, 2012. Retrieved 2012-10-31.[deprecated source]

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