Joseph Echols Lowery (born October 6, 1921) is a minister in the United Methodist Church and leader in the American civil rights movement. He later became the third president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, after Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and his immediate successor, Rev. Dr. Ralph David Abernathy, and participated in most of the major activities of the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
Joseph Lowery was pastor of the Warren Street Methodist Church, in Mobile, Alabama from 1952 until 1961. His career in the civil rights movement began in the early 1950s in Mobile. After Rosa Parks‘ arrest in 1955, Lowery 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 Dr. 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 Dr. King, Lowery led the Selma to Montgomery march of 1965. Lowery 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. Joseph Lowery was among the first five Black men to be arrested outside the South African Embassy in Washington, DC, during the Free South Africa movement. Lowery 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 of land.
Lowery is now retired from the ministry, but he remains active in the civil rights movement and in Christian activities.
To honor Reverend Lowery, 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.
Reverend Lowery has advocated for LGBT civil rights, including civil unions and, in 2012, same-sex marriage.
On January 20, 2009, Dr. Lowery delivered the benediction at the inauguration of 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!
Before Barack Obama gave his talk in Selma, Alabama, on 3/4/07, Rev. Joseph Lowery gave a talk on “Good Crazy” and “Something crazy may happen in this country.” Referring to the possibility of Barack Obama becoming President of the United States.
On September 26, 2013, Rev Lowery lost his beloved wife, Evelyn, to a massive stroke.
On the eve of his 92nd birthday, civil rights icon Rev. Joseph Lowery talked to CBS Atlanta.
It’s also the first time we are hearing from him since the recent death of his wife, Evelyn.
Lowery said the kindness of others has lightened the burden of his wife’s death.
By phone, he said Sunday’s star-studded birthday celebration at Morehouse College, benefiting his institute, is what she would have wanted.
“Oh, she wanted us to carry on, and we are doing it in her name and in her spirit. A wonderful spirit is still with us and always will be, and so many people are coming in honoring her,” said Lowery.
Proceeds will help support programs to end youth violence.
Actor Jamie Foxx, media mogul Tyler Perry, along with comedian Steve Harvey, are among those expected to attend.