Joseph Lowery
Joseph Lowery

Joseph Lowery was born on October 6, 1921, in Huntsville, Alabama. In 1952, he became pastor for the Warren Street United Methodist Church in Mobile. There, he helped launch a drive to end discrimination in Mobile. In 1957, Lowery helped form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and in 1968, he became the SCLC’s chairman. After retiring, he continued to fight against social injustice.”Work for that day … when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.”

Early Life

Born Joseph Echols Lowery on October 6, 1921, (some sources say 1924) in Huntsville, Alabama. For more than 50 years, Reverend Joseph Lowery has fought against prejudice and discrimination on behalf of the African-American community. He earned himself the nickname the “dean of the civil rights movement.” Lowery, the son of a teacher and a businessman, grew up in the segregated South. He knew firsthand the hardships and cruelty that many African-Americans experienced. At the age of 12, Lowery was beaten by a white police officer after he accidentally bumped into the law enforcement official. He graduated from high school in 1939 and then studied at several colleges, including Wayne State University and Knoxville College. After completing a bachelor’s degree at Paine College in Augusta, Georgia, Lowery followed a spiritual calling. He graduated from the Chicago Ecumenical Institute in 1950 with a doctorate in divinity.

Civil Rights Career

An ordained Methodist minister, Lowery returned to Alabama in 1952 to serve as pastor for the Warren Street United Methodist Church in Mobile. There, he became active in the emerging civil rights movement. Inspired by the resistance shown regarding the segregated busing system in Montgomery, Lowery helped launch a drive to end the same discriminatory practices in Mobile.

In 1957, Lowery worked with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph David Abernathy, and others to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He became the organization’s vice president and helped the group with its efforts to fight for equality through nonviolent actions. Lowery stayed true to his convictions at a great personal cost at times.

He and several members of the SCLC were sued for libel by a Montgomery commissioner because of a 1960 newspaper ad that made critiques of the city’s police department. Lowery’s assets were seized when the court ruled against the SCLC members. They appealed the case, which was finally overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1964.