Civil rights legend to be honored with Medal of Freedom

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ATLANTA (AP) — A civil rights icon who worked alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and helped lead the Montgomery bus boycott is headed to Washington to receive the Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, 87, delivered the benediction at Obama’s inauguration in January and now joins 15 others who will be honored in a ceremony on Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s unspeakable to be included with such an illustrious group of people,” Lowery said. “It’s indescribable.”

Lowery, a Huntsville, Alabama, native who led the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for two decades, will be honored alongside Billie Jean King, retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts.

“I know most of them,” Lowery said. “I’m sure there’s some people I don’t know, but I’ll be glad to meet them.”

Lowery called the award the most important of his life and said he is overwhelmed by it.

“I’m an ordinary, small town preacher, so my getting it ought to encourage other ordinary people to strive to serve the common good and know that they, too, might reap such an esteemed award,” he said.

He added that the honor was not his alone, but one he shares with those who helped him along the way.

“I just wish that the medal were big and wide so I could put the names of all the people who were responsible for my being there on it, but I understand it’s not very big,” Lowery said.

Though the honor is a culmination of his accomplishments, Lowery said he has no plans to stop working.

Speaking from his office at the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, he said, “To the extent that I can keep on preaching the word, I want to do so.”

Lowery said he doubts he’ll have much of a chance to do that Wednesday amid the celebration, though he would like to discuss health care reform, the war in Afghanistan and remaining vacancies in the administration that Obama has yet to fill with the president.

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