Rev. Joseph Lowery, civil rights movement ‘dean’ passes

April 2020, Front Page


The world lost an esteemed elder and stalwart fighter for freedom, justice and equality with the passing of Reverend Joseph Echols Lowery.

With his death in late March, he was remembered as a leader and man who walked and struggled alongside of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., during one of the most tumultuous eras in American history.

Rev. Lowery made his transition peacefully at home March 27 surrounded by his daughters and died of natural causes, a family statement said. The civil rights icon, who was 98-years-old, did not die of Covid-19, said his family.

“We in the Nation of Islam mourn the loss of the Reverend Joseph E. Lowery, one of the greatest preachers of the 20th century. I, as his junior, grew to love, admire and seek the counsel of such a great, great brother. For all those who have been affected by the power of his witness for Jesus Christ and his unyielding stand against tyranny and injustice, may we continue in the path of struggle for complete freedom, justice and equality until our time has come. Rev. Lowery’s is a life well lived and a job well done,” said the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, in an official statement released March 30.

“Dr. Lowery had assumed and executed a broad and diverse series of roles

over the span of his nine decades: leader, pastor, servant, father, husband, freedom fighter and advocate,” said the Joseph and Evelyn Lowery Institute for Justice and Human Rights in a statement.

Rev. Lowery stayed on the frontlines well after the 1960s civil rights movement that fought to end legal discrimination and acute inequality against Black people. Those who worked with him called Rev. Lowery a consistent, valiant voice for justice, whether behind closed doors or in public.

Born in Huntsville, Ala., he began advocating for civil rights in the early 1950s, when he headed the Alabama Civic Affairs Association, which led a movement to desegregate buses and public accommodations.

In 1957, along with Dr. King Jr. and several others, he co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He was the third leader of SCLC from 1977 to 1997 after Dr. King and Rev. Ralph David Abernathy.

“I would call him the man who picked up the broken pieces … the shattered dreams of the assassination of Martin Luther King,” said Chicago-based Reverend Al Sampson, who worked with Rev. Lowery and was a close friend and ally on domestic and international issues.

He saw Rev. Lowery navigate very vulnerable years of the movement after the murder of Dr. King, which jolted the country and those who worked with Dr. King.

Besides civil rights, Rev. Lowery fought for divestment of U.S. corporations doing business in apartheid South Africa, which supported White minority rule and the oppression of the Black majority. He was vocal concerning the cause of the suffering Palestinian people as one of many international initiatives against injustice.

“He was a man of God,” said Abdul Sharrieff Muhammad, the Southern Regional representative of the Nation of Islam based in Atlanta. “He always kept God out front.”

“He was always a warrior for the cause of his people … always fighting for the rights of the people,” added Mr. Muhammad.

Affectionately known as the “dean of the civil rights movement,” Rev. Lowery was a highly respected elder who helped shape change agents across generations.

Dr. Charles Steele, Jr., who currently leads the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, recalled Rev. Lowery’s effectiveness as a leader. Rev. Lowery was a “visionary” and “gifted at motivating” people from different cultures, religions and agendas to convene and work for the common good, said Dr. Steele, in a statement. “With the problems we are addressing today around the world, he would continue to be that catalyst to bring folks together. He was that glue that kept us at the table until we found the solutions,” said Dr. Steele of his mentor and predecessor.

Rev. Lowery “was an unapologetic advocate who did not stand on ceremony and never allowed the presence of the powerful stop him from dispensing bitter truths,” said Vanita Gupta, of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. In a statement, Ms. Gupta said: “Rev. Lowery did not leave the battlefield. He never retired his fiery oratory, his rapier wit, or his outsized love for all people.”

In addition to his accomplishments in the areas of justice, human rights, economic equality, voting rights, peace and human dignity, in 2009 Rev. Lowery was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama. Earlier in the same year, he delivered the benediction at President Obama’s inauguration as 44th president.

In a March 28 tweet, former President Obama remembered Rev. Lowery as a “giant” who paved the way.

“Rev. Joseph Lowery was a giant who let so many of us stand on his shoulders,” said Mr. Obama. “With boundless generosity, patience, and moral courage, he encouraged a new generation of activists and leaders.”

Former presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Corey Booker (D-N.J.) described Rev. Lowery as “one of those leaders in our history who expanded the moral imagination” of the United States.

“He committed his life to the cause of equality—unrelentingly confronting bigotry to advance justice. We are forever indebted to him for his work,” Sen. Booker said in a tweet.

“The world lost a spiritual leader—a sage who understood that politics did not stand separate from who we are but told the story of who we are willing to be,” said Georgia rising political star and former candidate for governor Stacey Abrams.