Reverend Doctor Joseph Echols Lowery
Dean of the Civil Rights Movement
B.A., B.D., LL.D., D.D., L.H.D.
Hailed as the “Dean of the Civil Rights Movement” upon his receipt of the NAACP’s “Lifetime Achievement Award,” Rev. Dr. Joseph Echols Lowery has assumed and executed a broad and diverse series of roles over the span of his eight decades: leader, pastor/preacher, servant, father, husband, freedom fighter, and advocate.
One milestone in this remarkable journey took place on August 12, 2009 when President Barack Obama awarded him the nation’s highest civilian honor: The Presidential Medal of Freedom, in recognition of his lifelong commitment to the nonviolent struggle for the causes of justice, human rights, economic equality, voting rights, peace and human dignity. Prior to that, on January 20, 2009, in his inimitable style; Dr. Lowery delivered the Benediction on the occasion of President Obama’s inauguration as the 44th President of the United States.
Born in Huntsville, Alabama, on October 6th, 1921, Rev. Dr. Lowery’s legacy of service and struggle is long and rich. His genesis as a Civil Rights advocate dates to the early 1950s where, in Mobile, Alabama he headed the Alabama Civic Affairs Association; the organization which led the movement to desegregate buses and public accommodations. In 1957, with friend and colleague, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. he was a Co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), where served in an array of leadership positions, including: Vice President (1957-67); Chairman of the Board (1967-77); and as President and Chief Executive Officer from (1977-1998).
In 1961, he was one of four Alabama pastors whose property was seized by the Alabama Courts in an historic, precedent setting libel suit, Sullivan v. NY Times, Abernathy, Lowery, Shuttlesworth, & Seay, because of their civil rights work. The United States Supreme Court vindicated the ministers in a landmark ruling which remains an important element in the protections afforded the free speech rights of the press, and of citizens advocating and protesting for justice and societal change.
In March of 1965, he was chosen by Dr. King to chair the Delegation delivering the demands of the Selma-to-Montgomery March George Wallace, the Governor of Alabama. As the world witnessed, Wallace ordered the marchers beaten in the incident that came to be known as “Bloody Sunday”, which ultimately led to enactment of the Voting Rights Act.
Throughout his career, Rev. Dr. Lowery’s commitment to human rights and social justice exists on a global scale. His work resulted in the desegregation of Nashville, Tennessee schools, presenting Nelson Mandela with the Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Award following his release from prison in 1990, leading a peace delegation to Lebanon and nations in Central America to seek justice by nonviolent means, and securing millions of dollars in contracts for minority businesses in the Southern region of the United States. .
His efforts also emphasize the need to uplift and empower historically disenfranchised communities. Ranging from supporting the families affected by the Atlanta “Missing and Murdered Children Crisis” through setting up funds with Citizen Trust Bank, demanding election reform and economic justice as Convener of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda (GCPA), to advocating for the rights of Black farmers discriminated against by the Department of Agriculture – Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery remains committed to cultivating the Beloved Community and reminds us to “turn TO each other not ON each other!” Ebony Magazine, in recognizing Rev. Dr. Lowery as one of the nation’s “15 Greatest Black Preachers,” described him as the “consummate voice of biblical social relevancy, a focused prophetic voice, speaking truth to power”, and his strong dedication to faith and inclusion is evident in all of his work.
Alabama A&M University
Payne College & Theological Seminary
Chicago Ecumenical Institute
Emory University Doctor of Divinity
University of Alabama
Clark Atlanta University
Alabama State University
Central State University
*(prior to merger)
Selected Awards & Honors
2011, Congressional Black Caucus, Phoenix Award
2011, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, “Lifetime Courage Award”
2011, National Education Association, “Lifetime Achievement Award”
2011, Morehouse College, “Gandhi – King Ikeda Award”
2011, SCLC W.O.M.E.N., Inc., “Drum Major for Justice Award for Civil Rights”
2011, Georgetown University and Kennedy Center, “John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award”
2010, Georgia Stand-Up, “Visionary Leader Award”
2010, Atlanta Urban League, “Equal Opportunity Award”
2010, Concerned Black Clergy,” Bishop C. Henderson President’s Award”
2009, The Presidential Medal of Freedom
2008, John Marshall Law School, ‘Fred Gray Social Justice Award”
2008, New York State United Teachers, “Albert Shanker Award”
2008, National Alliance of Black School Educators and Administrators “Living Legend Award”
2008, National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc., Atlanta Chapter, Humanitarian Award
2007, State of Georgia Civil Rights Department/Commission on Equal Opportunity’s Leadership in Civil Rights Award
2007, Atlanta Business League, Men of Influence, Legend’s Hall of Fame
2006, State of Georgia, Secretary of State’s Outstanding Georgia Citizen Award
2004, National Urban League’s Whitney M. Young, Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award
2003, Inaugural Martin Luther King Jr. Award, Boston University
2003, Inaugural Walter Reuther Humanitarian Award, Wayne State University
2002, Concerned Black Clergy Salute to Black Fathers Lifetime Achievement Award
2002, Black Leadership Forum’s Lifetime Achievement Award
Committee to Abolish Death Penalty Award
Southern Center for Human Rights Award
Operation PUSH/Rainbow Coalition’s Achievement Award
Black Methodists for Church Renewal Leadership Award
NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award
Southern Regional Council Life Fellow
World Peace Council Award
United Auto Workers Civil Rights Award