- Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site
International Civil Rights: Walk of Fame
Joseph Lowery
Joseph Lowery
1924 - present

Called "the dean of the Civil Rights Movement," Rev. Lowery has been a leader in the nonviolent struggle for social change for more than half a century. As head of the Alabama Civic Affairs Association in Mobile during the 1950s, Lowery organized a successful protest against segregated buses and public accommodations. In 1957 Lowery joined Martin Luther King, Jr. and others in organizing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He became SCLC vice-president. Later, he became board chairman (1967-1977), then president (1977-1998). In 1963, Lowery was one of four ministers sued for endorsing a New York Times ad that criticized Alabama police. In the landmark 1964 New York Times v. Sullivan decision, the Supreme Court limited public officials' right to sue critics. Lowery has gone to jail countless times for his beliefs, notably in 1968 during the Atlanta sanitation workers' strike; in 1984 in Washington D.C. for protesting apartheid; and in North Carolina while protesting environmental racism.

Joseph Echols Lowery, son of a Huntsville businessman and a schoolteacher, faced racism early in life. Once, after Joseph accidentally brushed against a white policeman entering his father's shop, the officer beat the 12-year-old with a billy club. Lowery graduated from high school in 1939 and attended Alabama A&M, Knoxville College and Wayne State University. He also studied at Payne College, Theological Seminary in Ohio and the Chicago Ecumenical Institute. Soon after college, he married Evelyn Gibson, the daughter of a minister. The couple raised three daughters as they worked in the movement. Lowery became an ordained United Methodist minister in 1950 and served as the pastor of several churches in Alabama, including Warren Street United Methodist Church in Mobile (1952-1961). In Atlanta, Lowery became pastor of Central United Methodist Church (1968-1986) and Cascade United Methodist Church (1986-1992).

Lowery co-founded the Black Leadership Forum, a consortium of advocacy organizations. He is the convener of the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples' Agenda. Clark Atlanta University established the Joseph E. Lowery Institute for Justice and Human Rights in 2001. That year the city of Atlanta renamed Ashby Street Joseph Lowery Boulevard.