Reverend Dr. Joseph Lowery, a pioneer of the Civil Rights movement and recipient of the Medal of Honor under President Barack Obama, passed away at his home on March 27, 2020, as reported by CBS 46. He was 98.
A cause of death was not immediately given, but he passed after a brief illness on Friday night in Atlanta, Georgia. He was married to wife Evelyn Gibson Lowery from 1950 until her death in 2013. Together they had three daughters, Yvonne Kennedy, Karen Lowery, and Cheryl Lowery-Osborne. He is survived by his children and 12 grandchildren. The Reverend also had two sons, Joseph Jr., and LeRoy III, from an earlier marriage to Agnes Moore.
Born on October 6, 1921, in Hunstville, Alabama, Reverend Joseph Lowery went on to study at Knoxville College, Payne College, and Theological Seminary. He earned his doctorate of divinity from the Chicago Ecumenical Insitute.
In the 1950s, he moved to Mobile, Alabama, where he was the pastor of Warren Street Methodist Church, and the head of the Alabama Civic Affairs Association, whose goal was to desegregate the bus system and public areas. Alabama then sued Lowery, along with numerous other ministers, on charges of libel and seized his property.
However, the Supreme Court sided with Lowery and his property returned. From this point on, he dedicated his life’s work to further the civil rights movement. His favorite quote was: “Let’s turn to each other and not on each other.”
Here’s what you need to know about Reverend Joseph Lowery:
1. Dr. Josephy Lowery & Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
In 1957, Lowery became the vice president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. served as its president. Dr. Lowery later served as the SCLC’s president from 1977 to 1997.
With Dr. King’s encouragement, Lowery was a lead participant in the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965, a 54-mile marching protest in defiance of segregation, and pushing for African-American citizens to be given the right to vote. The first march, which took place on March 7, 1965, led to what’s famously known as Bloody Sunday, in which police attacked the unarmed protestors with clubs and tear gas.
After the second march led to the death of civil rights activist James Reeb, President Lyndon Johnson announced that the administration started working on a voting rights law.
The third march took place on March 21, toward Montgomery, Alabama, with nearly 25,000 citizens continuing to protest for the right to vote. On August 6, 1965, The Voting Rights Act was signed into law.
2. Dr. Jospeh Lowery Was Honored At The International Civil Rights Walk Of Fame
Created in 2004 in Atlanta, Georgia, The Civil Rights Walk of Fame was built as a memorial to “those whose contributions were testaments to the fact that human progress is neither automatic or inevitable,” founder Xernona Clayton said.
In addition to receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama in 2009, Dr. Joseph Lowery was honored with the Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institutes, along with honorary doctorates from Emory University, Alabama State University, Morehouse College, and more. The Reverend was also the recipient of an NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award.
3. Dr. Joseph Lowery Delivered President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Benediction
When Barack Obama became the 44th president of the United States, Dr. Josephy Lowery was there to deliver the benediction. He started his speech from lines of what’s known as “The Negro National Anthem,” written by James Weldon Johnson, for what’s officially titled, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
Dr. Lowery said, “God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, thou who has brought us thus far along the way, thou who has by thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path we pray, lest our feet stray from the places, our god, where we met thee, lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee. Shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand true to thee, o God, and true to our native land. We truly give thanks for the glorious experience we’ve shared this day.”
4. Reverend Lowery Made Headlines For His Political Comments Made At Coretta Scott King’s Funeral
In 2016, Reverend Lowery received a standing ovation after speaking at Martin Luther King Jr.’s wife Coretta Scott King’s funeral in 2006.
With four presidents in attendance, including George W. Bush, he said, “We know now that there were no weapons of mass destruction over there. But Coretta knew, and we knew, 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.”
5. Dr. Joseph Lowery Previously Beat Prostate Cancer
Even after Reverend Lowery retired from the pulpit, he continued to be praised as one of the most respected voices of the civil rights movement. In to old age, he beat prostate cancer and when asked how he was doing, according to WBS-TV 2, he would always say, “I’m just an old man doing youngs things. I am tired but happy.”
After seeing so many of his closest loved one pass on, King Jr. at age 39, and his beloved wife Evelyn, who was a civil rights activist her own right, Lower said, “I’m grateful I’ve lived to see so many things that come to pass, that I never dreamed I would live to see.”