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Joseph Echols Lowery
20080627 21-17-09josephlowery.JPG
Date of birth: October 6, 1921 (1921-10-06) (age 88)
Place of birth: Huntsville, Alabama, USA
Movement: American Civil Rights Movement
Major organizations: Southern Christian Leadership Conference
Alabama Civic Affairs Association
Black Leadership Forum
Lowery Institute
Notable prizes: Presidential Medal of Freedom 2009
For the engraver, see Joseph Wilson Lowry.

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 '60s.

In 2004 Rev. Lowery was honored at the "International Civil Rights Walk of Fame" at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, located in Atlanta, Georgia. According to the National Park Service, the Walk of Fame was created "to give recognition to those courageous soldiers of justice who sacrificed and struggled to make equality a reality for all."[1]



Early life

Joseph E. Lowery was born to LeRoy and Dora Lowery on October 6, 1921. He attended middle school in Chicago while staying with relatives, returning to Huntsville to complete high school. He then attended Knoxville College and Alabama A&M College before earning a bachelor of arts at Paine College in Augusta, Georgia. He then entered the Paine Theological Seminary to become a minister. Later he completed a doctorate of divinity at the Chicago Ecumenical Institute.[2] He married Evelyn Gibson in 1950, a civil rights activist and leader in her own right. She is the sister of the late Rev. Dr. Harry Gibson an activist, and Elder member of the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church, Chicago Area.

Lowery has three daughters: Yvonne, Karen, and Cheryl. His grandson is actor and model Vaughn Lowery.

American civil rights career

Lowery was pastor of the Warren Street United Methodist Church, in Mobile, Alabama from 1952 until 1961. His career in the civil rights movement began in the early 1950s in Mobile, Alabama. 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, with Martin Luther King, Jr. Lowery founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and subsequently led the organization as its president from 1977 to 1997.

His property was seized in 1959 along with that of other civil rights leaders by the State of Alabama as part of a libel suit. The U.S. Supreme Court ordered the suit reversed. At the request of Martin Luther King Jr., Lowery led the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965. Lowery is a co-founder and former president of the Black Leadership Forum, a consortium of black advocacy groups. The Forum protested Apartheid in South Africa in the mid 1970s until the election of Nelson Mandela. Joseph Lowery was among the first five African Americans to get arrested at the South African Embassy in Washington D.C. during the Free South Africa movement. Lowery served as pastor of Cascade United Methodist Church in Atlanta from (1986-92), adding over a thousand members and leaving the church with 10 acres (40,000 m2) of land. He is now retired but remains active in the civil rights movement.

To honor Reverend Lowery, the City 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 Georgia Tech 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, the street intersects both Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive and Ralph David Abernathy Freeway.

Reverend Lowery has advocated for LGBT civil rights,[3] including civil unions, but is more hesitant on same-sex marriage.[4]


Reverend Joseph E. 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 and the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Lowery was Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama on July 30, 2009.[5]. He was also given the Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute that year.[6]

Coretta Scott King's funeral and controversy

In 2006, at Coretta Scott King's funeral, Dr. 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 President Bush was present at the ceremony.[7][8] None of Mrs. King's family has objected to Lowery's words.[9]

President Barack Obama's inauguration benediction

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! [10]

This final passage drew criticism for being "divisive",[11] or "racialist",[12] from some commentators.[13][14] Reporters in attendance called the passage a mocking of racial stereotypes, and said that the crowd received it with good humor.[15][16][17]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Haskins, Jim; Kathleen Benson (2008). Black Stars: African-American Religious Leaders. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. pp. 91. OCLC BV652.1.H285.  
  3. ^ 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.  
  4. ^ Cargo, Nick (2008-12-24). "Obama's inaugural benediction pastor Lowery clarifies stance on gay marriage". PageOneQ. Retrieved 2009-01-11.  
  5. ^ "President Obama Names Medal of Freedom Recipients", White House Office of the Press Secretary, July 30, 2009
  6. ^ MacDonald, Ginny (August 8, 2009) "Civil rights pioneer Lowery to be honored." Birmingham News
  7. ^ Greenfield, Jeff (2006-02-08). "Greenfield: 'Do you really do this at a funeral?'". CNN. Retrieved 2009-01-11.  
  8. ^ Matthews, Chris (2006-02-07). "'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Feb. 7th". Hardball with Chris Matthews. Retrieved 2009-01-11.  
  9. ^ Blitzer, Wolf (2003-01-14). "Coretta Scott King: Use peaceful means for peaceful ends". CNN. Retrieved 2009-01-11.  
  10. ^ "Text of Rev. Lowery's inauguration benediction". AP. January 20, 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-20.  
  11. ^ Beck, Glenn (January 20, 2009). "Is This How the Post-Racial Obama Administration Begins?". FOXNews.,2933,481049,00.html. Retrieved 2009-01-21.  
  12. ^ "About that race-based benediction: “When white will embrace what is right”". Michelle Malkin. January 20, 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-23.  
  13. ^ "Prayers for America's day of celebration". Anglican Media Melbourne. January 21, 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-21.  
  14. ^ "Inaugural Benediction Causes Firestorm". January 21, 2009.  
  15. ^ 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.  
  16. ^ 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.  
  17. ^ Mikkelsen, Randall (January 20th, 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)). Retrieved 2009-01-22.  

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery (October 6, 1921 – ) Born in Huntsville, Alabama, the Reverend Lowery attended Knoxville College, Payne College and Theological Seminary, and the Chicago Ecumenical Institute. Lowery earned his doctorate of divinity as well. After many years of civil rights activism in the United States and across Africa, he has since retired from the pulpit (1997) and from his role as founding president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1998).


  • You gotsta love all God's children!
  • We are one.
    • Speech honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., January 17, 2005, Clemson University
  • I'd like a hamburger and a coke, please. / Sir, we don't serve negroes here. / Ma'am, I don't eat negroes. I'd like a hamburger and a coke.
    • Conversation was originally at a burger joint in Nashville, TN, but the story was recounted at a Speech honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., January 17, 2005, Clemson University.
  • We ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get 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.
    • Benediction at inauguration of US president Barack Obama, January 20, 2009, Washington DC.

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