Beloved Civil Rights leader the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery passed away last Friday, March 27, in his Atlanta home from natural causes.
Affectionately known as the “Dean of the Civil Rights Movement,” Lowery will be remembered for his work with the Civil Rights Movement and as a co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
A member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternerity Inc., Lowery’s achievements in civil and human rights were recognized through his receipt of the NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award, Martin Luther King Jr. Center Peace Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from former President Barack Obama.
The former SCLC president for two decades is survived by his three daughters, Yvonne Kennedy, Karen Lowery and Cheryl Lowery.
“Our family has been simply blown away by the outpouring of love and support for my father and his legacy that has come from around the world,” said Cheryl Lowery, president/CEO of the Joseph and Evelyn Lowery Institute for Justice and Human Rights.
With the current dangers associated with COVID-19 looming over everyone’s heads, the Lowery family has decided to hold a private service for the late Lowery with only 10 family members in attendance.
“As we live through these unprecedented times and as the world fights the spread of the coronavirus, aligning ourselves with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on COVID-19 prevention and social distancing are important to us,” Lowery said. “And so a private service will be held for ten of our family members this week. We ask you continued prayers for us and for so many families across the globe who are grieving separate from their support systems.”
While there are no restrictions the prevent families from having funerals, the CDC and National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) have asked families to host very small assemblies and to leave their sick relatives at home.
Additionally, they have urged families to consider live streaming as a safer alternative to a physical funeral service.
According to Cheryl Lowery, her family plans to host a public memorial on Oct. 16, which would have been Lowery’s 99th birthday.
In the meantime, she asked that everyone who wishes to show their support to make donations to the Lowery Institute.
“With coronavirus in mind, we thank you for the offers for food, cards and donations but we as that in lieu of those things you make donations made available to the Joseph and Evelyn Lowery Institue for Justice and Human rights,” she said.
The Lowery Institute continues Lowery’s legacy by training, developing, empowering and inspiring leaders to improve their communities through civil and human rights; social justice; education; and community health locally, nationally, and abroad.
Founded in 2001, the Institute is housed in the Thomas Cole Building on the Campus of Clark Atlanta University through a partnership agreement between the two institutions.
While Lowery himself was an Alabama native, he spent the majority of his life as an Atlanta resident and left an indelible mark on the city.
“Derek and I are deeply saddened by the passing of (the) Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery,” said Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. “While he was a world-renowned leader of the Civil Rights Movement, he was a monumental part of our village, known as Atlanta.
“His love, care, and concern for the people of our communities were only surpassed by the love he had for his beautiful wife Evelyn, their children, grandchildren, and his entire family,” she continued. “(Lowery) has been an ever-present part of the fabric of Atlanta, from his leadership of the SCLC to his pastoring Cascade United Church, to simply his participation in so many events, big and small, throughout our community. While we will truly miss his presence here on earth, as he often reminded us, we will see him in the morning.”
Members of the Atlanta City Council also expressed their feelings toward the highly revered Atlantan.
“(The) Rev. Joseph Lowery was such an individual – a treasure to both the city of Atlanta and beyond,” said Felicia A. Moore, president of the Atlanta City Council. “A deeply spiritual man whose faith was his foundation and motivation, (Lowery) was fiercely committed to the furtherance of civil rights for all.
“Though serious about his mission, he also possessed a great sense of humor which he was never hesitant to share with those around him. (Lowery) was both an exceptional leader and a great human being.”
Lowery was born in Huntsville, Alabama, on Oct. 6, 1921. His father owned a small business, and his mother was a part-time schoolteacher. He married Evelyn Gibson in 1950. The couple had three daughters, and Lowery had two sons from a previous marriage.
After graduating from college, Lowery became an ordained Methodist minister who served congregations in Alabama and Georgia. He later became a peace activist, joining the fight against segregation and organizing marches in Selma and Birmingham, Alabama.
He served nearly half a century as a pastor, spending much of that time with Central United Methodist and Cascade United Methodist in Atlanta, Georgia.
Prior to relocating to Atlanta, Lowery helped lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1995) and the Alabama Civic Affairs Association, both of which contributed to the desegregation of buses and public places. He also participated in the Selma to Montgomery March in (1965) and was one of the leading voices to speak out against Apartied in South Africa.