Hailed the “Dean of the Civil Rights Movement,” Rev. Joseph Lowery stood a foot soldier in all of the epic civil rights battles of his day.
With determination, diligence and depth, he braved the front lines in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, refused to back down from a violent showdown with Bull Connor in Birmingham, maintained the faith to march from Selma to Montgomery and demanded jobs and justice on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Lowery was encased within the civil right movement’s inner circle, fighting alongside so many others who were cut down in their prime, but at the ripe age of 90 he’s among the few left to see the fruit of the labor.
“He is one of the remaining warriors of the civil rights struggle who helped pave the road for all the activism we see in America today,” says Congressman John Lewis. “Rev. Lowery has done a great deal to ensure that the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement will endure.”
Lowery picked up the mantle of service and has not put it down since. Most of us dream for a day to retire and sit back and relax, but when you believe it is your responsibility to improve the quality of life for not only yourself but your people as a whole there’s never really a good time to just sit back.
“It’s very hard to retire from Jesus because your religion and faith become more important to you as you age because you realize you aren’t just a physical being”, says Ambassador Andrew Young. ”[Lowery] has lived by the spirit. The spirit only grows stronger as the flesh grows weaker.”
Joseph Echols Lowery was born October 6, 1921 in Huntsville, Alabama and jokes one has to be a little crazy to answer to brutality with nonviolence, but it is what he calls “good crazy.” Although the times have changed and African Americans are not avidly organizing sit-ins and boycotts, Rev Lowery is adamant that his fight, your fight, our fight is far from over.
“The people who oppose equality don’t rest. They continue to plea their case.” The plea Lowery makes is a wake-up call to black America best summed up in two words “Sustained Movement”.
He says “the people” did a real disservice after the “legalized murder” of Troy Anthony Davis. He says once Davis died so did the momentum for ending the death penalty. He says by not keeping the dialogue open African-Americans not only showed children our country solves problems with killing but turns a blind eye to the fact most executions happen in “Old Slave States.” He warns the way African-Americans handled the capital punishment fight cannot be the same way they handle their number one enemy which is a hidden, silent but a strong force — economic Injustice.
“In this recession, America has a cold. We have pneumonia.” We’re fighting a very powerful enemy. Ten percent can’t control the wealth of the other 90 percent, and they aren’t going to give up control,” Lowery said.
Economic Injustice, a country that cares more for its political agenda than people as a whole is the first enemy fire in the next civil rights battle, but Lowery says there is hope. It comes from the men and women behind the Occupy Movements on Wall Street and around the country. He says they’ve borrowed a chapter from the history books that everyone should read.
“I think there is still room for direct action. I think the people who are doing this Wall Street protest are doing a great service. They’re not calling it the ‘Poor People Campaign’ but it was similar. The world rendered the poor invisible and a snare.”
Lowery says protests are ways to raise awareness, but is adamant the best way for African-Americans to claim their financial independence, fight for job creation and demand balanced taxation awaits them at the polls. He says President Obama needs help and needs the “Ready for Change” spirit that spread through the nation, especially among the youth, to make any difference in the 2012 election.
“We got to recognize the struggle isn’t over. We’ve won some good victories. Some great battles, but the war is far from over. You got to get people in the office who are sensitive to equity,” Lowery said.
A staunch supporter of President Obama, Lowery grasped his medal of freedom, the highest honor The president could have every given him or any civilian, and recanted how surreal it is to be able to stand behind a president whose policies he values, but also happens to be the epitome of a dream once deferred. “I didn’t think I would see the day. When we got the voting right we talked and asked ourselves would we live to see a black president. Martin didn’t. Ralph didn’t. I thank God he at least kept my eyes open long enough to see the day.
President Obama wasn’t able to make Lowery’s star studded gala at the Atlanta Symphony Hall Sunday, but said in a video message: “I don’t know where I’d be without your support and advice. I don’t know where this country would be without your leadership.”
Reverend Lowery called his birthday celebration a party with a purpose. All of the proceeds will benefit the Lowery Institute for Justice and Human Rights, exactly what we’ve come to expect from a man whose life has been a testament to service and sacrifice.
“God called me to pursue justice. He didn’t take his call from me yet. I figure that’s why I’m still here. I don’t think God is keeping me around because I was so good or so smart. I heard all my life service is the rent we pay. I got to keep working to pay my rent as long as he lets me live.”