Joseph Lowery, a minister and a pillar of the civil rights movement, died at his home on March 27. He was 98 years old.
A native of Huntsville, Alabama, Lowery studied at Knoxville College in Tennessee and at what is now Alabama A&M University before earning a bachelor’s degree at Paine College in Augusta, Georgia. He studied at the Paine Theological Seminary to become a Methodist minister and became pastor of the Warren Street United Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama. He later earned a doctorate at the Chicago Ecumenical Institute.
In 1955, when Rosa Parks was arrested for sitting in seats reserved for Whites in the front of a bus, Dr. Lowery helped organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In 1957 he was one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He served a chair of the board of that organization from 1967 to 1977 and as president from 1977 to 1998.
Dr. Lowery was an organizer of the Selma, Alabama, voting rights march. Later he was a crusader against South African apartheid and against racial inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system.
In 2002, the Joseph E. Lowery Institute for Justice & Human Rights was founded at Clark Atlanta University. The Institute was later renamed to include and honor Dr. Evelyn Lowery, his beloved partner in marriage and the movement for 67 years.
At President Obama’s inauguration in 2009, Dr. Lowery was asked to deliver the benediction. He prayed: “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. That all those who do justice and love mercy, say Amen.”
In August 2009, President Obama awarded Dr. Lowery the Medal of Freedom.