The Rev. Joseph Lowery played
a major role in key civil rights struggles during the
1950s and 1960s. Photo courtesy
United Methodist News Service/Rasul Welch
November 29, 2004
Longtime activist Joseph Lowery to speak
at MLK event Jan. 10, 2005
By Louise Donahue
The Rev. Joseph Lowery, who helped found the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King in 1957 and led
the organization for 20 years, will be the keynote speaker at
UCSCs Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Convocation
on January 10.
Lowery, who will discuss Martin Luther King's legacy and the
21st century, will speak at 7 p.m. in the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium.
The event is free and open to the public.
Lowery played a major role in many of the pivotal civil rights
struggles of the 1950s and 60s and has remained active.
In a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court, Lowery
was among four ministers sued by Alabama officials for $3 million
in the early 1950s. Lowerys property was seized, but he
was vindicated when the court ruled for the ministers in the
landmark 1964 libel case, Sullivan v. New York Times, Abernathy,
Lowery, Shuttlesworth, and Seay.
In 1965, King named Lowery to deliver the demands of a planned
Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights to then-Alabama
Governor George Wallace. In an event that shocked the nation,
police tear-gassed and clubbed the peaceful marchers at Edmund
Pettus Bridge. The brutality of what came to be known as Bloody
Sunday focused the nation's attention on the extreme measures
used to prevent black citizens from exercising their constitutional
right to vote, leading Congress to enact the Voting Rights Act
Lowery recalled the 1965 march when he testified before a U.S.
Senate committee following the disputed 2000 presidential election.
Dr. King could not have anticipated that once we secured
the ballot in 1965, that here in 2001, we would be demanding
that our government assure us that our votes are fairly and
accurately counted, Lowery told the senators. We
must understand that failure to provide those resources is to
blaspheme our devotion to rights guaranteed in the Constitution
of these United States.
As president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
from 1977 to 1997, Lowery protested apartheid policies in South
Africa and cochaired the 1990 Nelson Mandela visit to Atlanta
following Mandelas release from prison. He led a peace
delegation to the Middle East and met with the president of
Lebanon and Yasser Arafat to seek justice in the Middle East
by nonviolent means. Lowery also led protests and was arrested
twice in a campaign against the dumping of toxic waste in Warren
Lowery also cofounded the Black Leadership Forum, a consortium
of national black advocacy organizations, and served as third
president following Vernon Jordan and Benjamin Hooks.
After retiring from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
in January 1998, Lowery helped African American farmers secure
a federal court decree valued at $2 billion against the Department
of Agriculture for discrimination.
In 2001, Clark Atlanta University established the Joseph E.
Lowery Institute for Justice & Human Rights to provide an
opportunity for students, teachers, elected officials, and others
to benefit from examples of nonviolent advocacy, and exploration
of the moral, ethical and theological imperatives for justice
and human rights for all people.
In 2003, Lowery received an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane
Letters from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, one of
many such awards from universities around the nation. The Atlanta
Board of Education has instituted the Joseph E. Lowery Lecture
Series on Civic Participation, and the Atlanta City Council
voted to change the name of Ashby Street to Joseph E. Lowery
This fall, Lowery was among the first group of honorees included
in the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame at the Martin
Luther King Jr. National Historic site in Atlanta. Others honored
included former President Jimmy Carter, Justice Thurgood Marshall,
and Rosa Parks.
In addition to UCSC, the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
Convocation is sponsored by the City of Santa Cruz, the Santa
Cruz Sentinel, KUSP Radio, Inner Light Ministries, and
the Santa Cruz Branch of the National Association for the Advancement
of Colored People, or NAACP.
Return to Front Page