IN MEMORIAM: Civil Rights Giant Rev. Joseph Lowery of Alabama, Dies at 98
By Lauren Victoria Burke
Rev. Joseph Lowery was a civil rights giant. He was a Methodist preacher, a leader of the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, an organizer of the 1963 March on Washington and a close confidant of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
A fighter for human rights, voting rights and the rights of African Americans in a nation with 300 years of systematic racism against Blacks in its rear-view mirror, Rev. Lowery was often referred to as the “dean” of the American civil rights movement.
“Black people need to understand that the right to vote was not a gift of our political system but came as a result of blood, sweat and tears,” Rev. Lowery said in 1985.
Joseph Lowery was born in Huntsville, Alabama, in 1921 and his father owned a grocery store. After an incident in the store with a racist police officer, he decided to dedicate his life to civil rights work.
After graduating from college, Lowery became an ordained Methodist minister who served congregations in Alabama and Georgia. He later became a peace activist, joining the fight against segregation and organizing marches in Selma and Birmingham, Alabama. He served nearly half a century as a pastor, spending much of that time with Central United Methodist and Cascade United Methodist in Atlanta, Georgia.
In 1957, along with Dr. King, Lowery founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and led the organization from 1977 to 1997. Rev. Lowery’s life of leadership was unmatched by any living American other than perhaps Congressman John Lewis.
“A good man passes here. He will be missed. He contributed. He changed things. He’s been Promoted. Gone on, to a better place,” wrote businessman John Hope Bryant on social media after news of Lowery’s death.
“Rest in Power to Rev. Joseph Lowery. Saw him speak against the death penalty years ago. He said that the criminal justice system was still as racist as it was a century ago and for people in prison, we might as well still travel by horse instead of by car. Never forgot that,” wrote journalist Dave Zirin.
“Dr. Joseph Lowery, the dean of the civil rights movement has passed. He was a mentor, pastor, and friend to me. The world is a better place because of him and I’m a better person because of his investment in me. May he Rest in Peace as he joins his wife & Dr. King on the other side,” wrote Rev. Al Sharpton.
Rev. Lowery delivered benediction at Obama’s inauguration. On July 30, 2009, President Obama awarded him the Medal of Freedom. Much like Congressman Lewis, there are not many awards and honors Lowery hasn’t received.
Lowery was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. His second wife Evelyn died in 2013. He is survived by five children.
“Tonight, the great Reverend Joseph E. Lowery transitioned from earth to eternity. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. He was a champion for civil rights, a challenger of injustice, a dear friend to the King family. Thank you, sir,” read a tweet from the King Center on the night of March 27.
Lauren Victoria Burke is an independent journalist for NNPA and the host of the podcast BURKEFILE. She is also a political strategist as Principal of Win Digital Media LLC. She may be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on twitter at @LVBurke