Joseph Lowery, a major key player in the American civil rights movement, died on March 27, 2020. Lowery was a prominent civil rights player, with his activism dating back to the early 1950s. He was also a close friend to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Lowery continued to champion for equal rights for all until the very end, making him an inspiration to many then and now.
Lowery was born on Oct. 6, 1921 in Huntsville, AL. Despite being raised from humble beginnings, Lowery’s early years were not easygoing. When he was a young boy, Lowery was beaten by a white police officer for not moving off of the sidewalk while walking near a white man. Lowery’s parents raised him with the mindset to remain nonviolent, something he continued to believe in all of his life. Lowery went to middle school in Chicago before returning to Alabama to attend college. Lowery attended Knoxville College and Alabama A&M College before graduating from Paine College.
Lowery became an ordained minister in 1950 and pastored the Warren Street Methodist Church from 1952 to 1961. He began his civil rights career by helping lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott after Rosa Parks’ infamous arrest in 1955. He founded and headed up the Alabama Civic Affairs Association, which was an organization dedicated to desegregation of buses and all public places. In 1957, alongside other civil rights leaders including Fred Shuttlesworth and MLK Jr., Lowery founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference known as the SCLC. He became the organization’s third president and led from 1977 until 1997.
Lowery was also a lead participant in the Selma marches in 1965. Lowery’s activism did not stop at only American issues. He was also a founder of the Black Leadership Forum, which was created to directly oppose the existence of apartheid in South Africa. As a result of protesting the practice during the Free South Africa movement, Lowery was among the first five people arrested outside of the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C. Lowery also served as the pastor of Cascade United Methodist Church from 1986 until 1992 and was responsible for bringing more than 1,000 people into the church as members.
Among Lowery’s many honors, the city of Atlanta renamed Ashby Street in honor of Lowery. Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard, is a prominent street in downtown Atlanta that runs through all of Atlanta’s Historically Black College and Universities. Lowery also received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the NAACP in 1997, and they gave him the nickname “the dean of the civil rights movement,” as well as several honorary doctorates from multiple colleges and universities. Lowery also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama on July 30, 2009.
Lowery left behind a massive legacy of peace and hard work. He was a strong advocate for equal rights for every person and did all that he could to make that dream come true. Lowery’s death has had a huge impact on the community and has brought down the curtain on the life of an incredible man.