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Thu, 10.06.1921

Joseph Lowery, Minister, and Activist born

Rev. Joseph Lowrey

*Joseph Lowery was born on this date in 1921. He was a Black minister in the United Methodist Church and an activist.

From Huntsville, Ala. Joseph E. Lowery was the son of LeRoy and Dora Lowery.  He attended middle school in Chicago while staying with relatives, returning to Huntsville to complete high school. He then attended Knoxville College and Paine College and Theological Seminary, earning his doctorate of divinity at Chicago Ecumenical Institute.

He married Evelyn Gibson in 1950. He had three daughters: Yvonne, Karen, and Cheryl. Cheryl is married to William Osborne Jr., and they have three children: Justice Osborne, Blake Osborne, and Maya Osborne. Dr. Lowery was also the grandfather of actor and model Vaughn Lowery.

He was pastor of the Warren Street United Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama, from 1952 until 1961. His career in the American 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 desegregating buses and public places. In 1957, with Martin Luther King, Jr., Lowery founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) 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 ten acres of land.

He was retired but remained active in the 21st-century 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. It 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 (HBCU): Clark Atlanta University, Spelman College, Morehouse College, and Morris Brown College. Perhaps not coincidentally, the street intersects Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive and Ralph David Abernathy Freeway.

Reverend Lowery has advocated for LGBT civil rights, including civil unions but was more hesitant on same-sex marriage. Reverend Lowery received several awards. The NAACP gave him an award at its 1997 convention for "dean of the civil rights movement" and a 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. In 2004 Rev. Lowery was honored at the "International Civil Rights Walk of Fame" at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia. According to the National Park Service, the Walk of Fame was created "to recognize those courageous soldiers of justice who sacrificed and struggled to make equality a reality for all."

Ebony Magazine 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.

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.  Joseph Lowery, a Dean of the American Civil Rights, died on March 27, 2020, of natural causes.

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