ATLANTA (CBS46) – The Reverend Doctor Joseph Echols Lowery, co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and known as the “Dean” of the American Civil Rights Movement, passed away Friday night at the age of 98.
A statement from the Joseph & Evelyn Lowery Institute for Justice and Human Rights said Lowery died peacefully surrounded by his daughters around 10 p.m. It was the end of a life that helped fundamentally shape human and civil rights in the United States and around the world that started out with humble beginnings.
Dr. Lowery was born in Huntsville, Alabama in 1921. His parents were a teacher and a shopkeeper. After earning his Doctor of Divinity degree from the Chicago Ecumenical Institute, he became the pastor of a Methodist church in Mobile, Alabama. It was shortly thereafter that he became involved in the growing Civil Rights Movement in the U.S.
He helped lead the Montgomery bus boycott after Rosa Parks was arrested in 1955 for refusing to give up her seat to a white person. By 1957, he had joined forces with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to found the SCLC. He would go on to lead peaceful boycotts, marches, and was instrumental in the non-violent resistance used by the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.
In 1965, Lowery was one of the leaders of the Selma to Montgomery march that was supposed to deliver demands to then-segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace. The march never made it to Montgomery after Wallace’s state troopers violently attacked the peaceful marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. Many of the marchers were left bloodied and beaten in the street. Congressman John Lewis, also one of the marchers that day, suffered a fractured skull during the beatings.
The event became known as Bloody Sunday and shifted the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. The march came less than a year after the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 passed and helped push forward the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Decades later, Governor Wallace would apologize to Lowery and the marchers for his actions on Bloody Sunday.
Through the rest of his life, Lowery worked as the head of the SCLC and helped countless groups across the U.S. and around the world fighting for freedom. In 2008, he publicly backed the presidential campaign of then-Senator Barack Obama. When President Obama was elected, he asked Lowery to give the benediction at his January 2009 inauguration. Later that same year, President Obama awarded Lowery the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
His work on civil and human rights left an indelible mark on the United States, the world, and human history.
Michael Julian Bond, Atlanta City Council member post one at large, released the following statement:
It is with deep sadness that I have learned of the passing of civil rights icon an American hero Reverend Joseph Lowery. I would like to extend my deepest condolences to the Lowery family and all those who love freedom and justice in our nation. I am deeply saddened by the loss of such a great man of whom I considered a spiritual leader, Mentor, and friend.
Reverend Lowery was more than just an American hero, activist, civil rights leader, fiery PASTOR, and servant of his fellow man , He was a participating Witness of historic change in America.
His life stretched from the heyday of Jim Crow segregation to the Progressive dawn of a new century which saw the election of the first African American President of the United States.
In his life he overcame tremendous obstacles & oppression, faced down giants, walked amongst kings, fought and won freedoms for his fellow man, yet never failed to humbly “wash the feet“ of Others in our society. Our nation’s great champion has passed from us to his well-deserved heavenly reward. Though the great Echo of his Roar remains, the great lion has gone.
In a statement released after being informed of Dr. Lowery’s passing, Congressman John Lewis said this:
Cascade United Methodist Church Dr. Kevin R. Murriel released the following statement:
"The Cascade United Methodist Church Family is deeply saddened at the transition of our beloved Pastor Emeritus, Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, who served our congregation and community faithfully. He was indeed special to us and was loved across the world. We are encouraged that his legacy will live on through his family, the work of our church, and in the constant movement for social justice. Dr. Lowery was one of a kind and he will be deeply missed. Please continue to keep the Lowery family in your prayers."
"We have lost a profound leader of the civil right movement. Who’s contribution to this great nation will never be forgotten."
"The Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery was one of the fiercest advocates for social justice this nation has witnessed. He paid his dues on the front lines of the war for black freedom and civil rights alongside the legendary Martin Luther King, Jr., and he continued to edify the nation with his rousing oratory well into his 90s. A man of considerable verbal gifts and a sharp wit, he implored the nation to move continually toward the high mark of moral redemption as laid out in the gospel he nobly defended as one of our most eloquent prophets. His legacy as a stalwart for social change will stand the test of time, and his ceaseless advocacy for the most vulnerable landed him in jail and then took him to presidential inaugural podiums. He is one of the very last of a remarkable generation of principled leaders whose tireless devotion to speaking truth to power for more than seven decades in a life that lasted nearly a century will burn brightly as long as the record of our country is kept."
"Our entire family is humbled and blessed by the overwhelming outpouring of love and support that has come from around the globe. We thank you for loving our father, Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, and for your continuous prayers during this time. In lieu of flowers, cards or food, donations may be made to The Joseph & Evelyn Lowery Institute for Justice & Human Rights. Dr. Lowery’s life was driven by a sense of obligation to our global community and desire to champion love over hate; inclusion over exclusion. The Lowery Institute was founded in 2002 to further Dr. Lowery’s legacy of promoting non-violent advocacy among future generations. Donations can be sent to The Joseph & Evelyn Lowery Institute, P.O. Box 92801, Atlanta, GA 30314, or on-line at loweryinstitute.org. Aligning with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines on COVID-19 prevention and social distancing, plans are underway for a private family service. A public memorial will be held in late summer or early fall."