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Evelyn Lowery Warmly Remembered at Funeral Service

By Hal Lamar Contributing Writer | 10/4/2013, 11:42 a.m.
Pioneer Evelyn Gibson Lowery passed away at 88 years old.

ATLANTA- All of the near dozen scheduled speakers and many of the hundreds in attendance for the homegoing of Evelyn Lowery insisted it would be wrong for anyone to refer to her as merely the wife of Rev. Joseph Lowery, the “Dean of the Civil Rights Movement”. Said SCLC-Women interim chair Scarlet Pressley-Brown, “When a light shined on Dr. Lowery, Evelyn was the one who turned on the switch.”

Family, friends and admirers packed Morehouse College’s Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel Wednesday morning, October 2 for a moving homegoing service for Mrs. Lowery who was laid to rest after succumbing to complications from a stroke, September 26.

Lowery spent a week in intensive care and died a day after being sent home. She was surrounded by her husband and three daughters. Karen, Yvonne and Cheryl. Cheryl later sang a tribute to their mother which brought nearly all of the near 1000 mourners to their feet crying and shouting.

A native of Wichita, Kansas, Lowery came to Atlanta in the 1940s to attend Clark College (now Clark-Atlanta University). After graduation, she moved to Birmingham, Al. A younger sister introduced her to a fledgling minister who was being mentored by their father Methodist minister Harry Gibson.

They married in 1946 and she then accompanied her husband to pastorates in Mobile, Al. and eventually to Atlanta where he pastored the Central and Cascade United Methodist churches before retiring. For many years before becoming the third president of the SCLC in 1977, Lowery served as the organization’s board chair.

Not one to stay at home, Mrs. Lowery often joined her husband on civil rights battlegrounds in Selma, Birmingham, and in Wrightsville, Ga. She even became embroiled in movements in Atlanta, remembered TV personality and Trumpet Awards founder Zernona Clayton.

“ At one time, shoe stores in downtown Atlanta refused to hire black men as salespersons because they feared the men would be trying to peak under women’s dresses while fitting them for shoes,” she said. “We decided that the women had to do something and asked for Evelyn’s help. She readily responded and we started protesting outside many of those stores. We won that battle.”

In October of 1979, Mrs. Lowery created SCLC/Women, promoting across the board equality for African –Americana and especially women. In 1980, SCLC-Women held their first Drum Major for Justice Awards ceremony to honor achievers in a number of vocational, religious and civic disciplines. “She was an awesome woman who made great contributions to our society and once again reminds us of the contributions women have made to the civil rights movement that are often overlooked,” said Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King.

Ruby Shinholster, widow of former NAACP official Earl Shinholster, serves as a volunteer for SCLC-Women and said you just didn’t say no to Evelyn. “Yes, sometimes she was a pain,” said Shinholster to laughter from the audience. “I had to remind her sometimes that I was only a volunteer. But we did whatever asked because we knew she only wanted the best. Her spirit encouraged you to do more and she was glad to give you more to do.”

“She was an American icon,” described Thandi Luthuli Gcabashe, who met the Lowerys while exiled from her native South Africa for 26 years. “She was one of the few in those early years of the anti-apartheid movement who saw the correlation between South Africa and the civil rights struggle in America. She put them side by side.”

Others who spoke in between rousing renditions of traditional spirituals by the mass choir of the Cascade United Methodist Church and solos by Cassandra Davis and celebrated singer-actress Jennifer Holliday, often used the word “pioneer” in their statements. “I think that is an important part of her legacy,” said Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of historic Ebenezer Baptist Church. “When you think about the biblical story of the children of Israel who crossed the Jordan and were encouraged to place down stones to memorialize the struggles, in a country (US) with such short-term memories, the people must be very intentional about remembering the struggles and Mrs. Lowery was absolutely wonderful in her ability to do that for us.”