<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=192888919167017&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">
Monday, February 26, 2024
Feb. 26, 2024

Linkedin Pinterest

Civil rights leader, MLK aide Joseph Lowery dies

Longtime leader of SCLC gave benediction at Obama inauguration

By
Published:
4 Photos
FILE - In this Aug. 12, 2009, file photo, President Barack Obama presents a 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom to the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery n the East Room of the the White House in Washington. Lowery, a veteran civil rights leader who helped the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and fought against racial discrimination, died Friday, March 27, 2020, a family statement said. He was 98. (AP Photo/J.
FILE - In this Aug. 12, 2009, file photo, President Barack Obama presents a 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom to the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery n the East Room of the the White House in Washington. Lowery, a veteran civil rights leader who helped the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and fought against racial discrimination, died Friday, March 27, 2020, a family statement said. He was 98. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) (Associated Press files) Photo Gallery

ATLANTA — The Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, a veteran civil rights leader who helped the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and fought against racial discrimination, died Friday, a family statement said. He was 98.

A charismatic and fiery preacher, Lowery led the SCLC for two decades — restoring the organization’s financial stability and pressuring businesses not to trade with South Africa’s apartheid-era regime — before retiring in 1997.

Lowery, considered the dean of civil rights veterans, lived to celebrate a November 2008 milestone that few of his movement colleagues thought they would ever witness — the election of an African American president.

At an emotional victory celebration for President-elect Barack Obama in Atlanta, Lowery said, “America tonight is in the process of being born again.”

An early and enthusiastic supporter of Obama over then-Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, Lowery also gave the benediction at Obama’s inauguration.

“We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that, yes, we can work together to achieve a more perfect union,” he said.

In 2009, Obama awarded Lowery the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

In a statement Saturday, Obama said Lowery “changed the face of America.”

“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,” he said.

Obama said he and his wife, Michelle, were grateful for Lowery’s “personal and spiritual support he offered us from the early days of our campaign … and for the friendship and counsel he provided ever since.”

In another high-profile moment, Lowery drew a standing ovation at the 2006 funeral of King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, when he criticized the war in Iraq, saying, “For war, billions more, but no more for the poor.” The comment also drew head shakes from then-President George Bush and his father, former president George H.W. Bush, who were seated behind the pulpit.

Lowery’s involvement in civil rights grew naturally out of his Christian faith. He often preached that racial discrimination in housing, employment and health care was at odds with fundamental Christian values such as human worth and the brotherhood of man.

“I’ve never felt your ministry should be totally devoted to making a heavenly home. I thought it should also be devoted to making your home here heavenly,” he once said.

Lowery remained active in fighting issues such as war, poverty and racism long after retiring, and survived prostate cancer and throat surgery after he beat Jim Crow.

“We have lost a stalwart of the Civil Rights Movement, and I have lost a friend and mentor,” House Majority Whip, U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn, in a statement Saturday. “His wit and candor inspired my generation to use civil disobedience to move the needle on ‘liberty and justice for all.’ It was his life’s work and his was a life well lived.”

Former President Bill Clinton remembered walking with Lowery across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., on the 35th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. “Our country has lost a brave, visionary leader in the struggle for justice and a champion of its promise, still unrealized, of equality for all Americans. Throughout his long good life, Joe Lowery’s commitment to speaking truth to power never wavered, even in the hottest fires.”

His wife, Evelyn Gibson Lowery, who worked alongside her husband of nearly 70 years and served as head of SCLC/WOMEN, died in 2013.

“I’ll miss you, Uncle Joe. You finally made it up to see Aunt Evelyn again,” King’s daughter, Bernice King, said in a tweet Friday night.

Lowery was pastor of the Warren Street Methodist Church in Mobile, Ala., in the 1950s when he met King, who then lived in Montgomery, Ala. Lowery’s meetings with King, the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy and other civil rights activists led to the SCLC’s formation in 1957. The group became a leading force in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s.

Lowery became SCLC president in 1977 following the resignation of Abernathy, who had taken the job after King was assassinated in 1968. He took over an SCLC that was deeply in debt and losing members rapidly. Lowery helped the organization survive and guided it on a new course.

Loading...