Joseph E. Lowery, SCLC President 1977-1997

By Sarah Quigley, Project Archivist, Southern Christian Leadership Conference records

Born in Alabama in 1921, Joseph Echols Lowery bore witness to the indignities of the Jim Crow south and grew up to become an influential leader of the Civil Rights Movement.  He was a young Methodist minister in Mobile, Alabama during the bus boycotts of the 1950s, and a founding member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1957.  He was active in the movement throughout the 1960s, marching alongside King from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.  He also was Chairman of the Board of Directors of the SCLC through much of the 1960s and 1970s.  In 1977, following the resignation of Ralph David Abernathy, Lowery assumed the presidency of SCLC, which he held until 1997.

Under his leadership, SCLC continued to employ the use of nonviolent direct action to achieve greater equality.  The organization continued to focus on securing economic justice for the poor and voting rights for the disenfranchised, but also took on more international interests.  In 1979, Lowery and several other Civil Rights leaders met with the PLO to discuss peace in the Middle East.  In the 1980s, SCLC also became deeply involved in the fight to end Apartheid in South Africa.  In 1985, objecting to the sale of South African products in Winn-Dixie stores, Lowery led a boycott of the grocery store chain that ultimately ended in the store pulling all South African products from their shelves.  Lowery retired from the ministry in 1992 while pastor at Cascade United Methodist Church in Atlanta.  He served over 40 years as a minister.

In May, Emory University will honor Joseph Lowery with a doctor of divinity degree.

Above:  Lowery (right) with Andy Young (center) and others.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference records currently are closed for processing.  For more information, please contact the archivist.


“Working for Freedom:  Documenting Civil Rights Organizations” is a collaborative project between Emory University, the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History, and the Robert W. Woodruff Library of Atlanta University Center to uncover and make available previously hidden collections documenting the Civil Rights Movement in Atlanta and New Orleans.  The project is administered by the Council on Library and Information Resources with funds from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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