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Wal-Mart U.S. History Program Brings SCLC’s Lowery To NSU

By Leonard E. Colvin

Chief Reporter New Journal and Guide


Rev. Joe Lowery has been an active witness to the modern Civil Rights Movement. In 1950, fresh out of seminary, while living in Mobile, Alabama, he was a member of an organization devoted to desegregating city buses and other public accommodations. Five years later he lent support to another young preacher, Martin Luther King, Jr., who was leading the Montgomery Bus Boycott to desegregate buses in that city. Two years later, he helped form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) with Dr. King. Lowery led the SCLC for 20 years after Dr. King’s death, and even after leaving SCLC’s leadership, he continued as an outspoken advocate for human rights, including chiding President Bush for his misstep in Iraq while he was delivering the eulogy at Coretta Scott King’s funeral. Three years ago, he witnessed one of the fruits of his labor bloom with the inauguration of President Barack H. Obama, where he delivered the benediction during the ceremony. So who best to conduct a “History Teaching History” seminar at Norfolk State University on February 22. The seminar allows eyewitnesses to American History to share their experiences and is sponsored by Wal-Mart. During his presentation in the school’s student center, Lowery shed some light on the Civil Rights Movement he helped lead and its impact on the lives and opportunities afforded to the youth and adults in the audience. But before his humor-filled lecture, Lowery fielded questions from the local media. Lowery observed how “NSU has grown. I have not been here in 25 years.


I am amazed at the growth; pleased to see the spiritual energy match its physical growth.” One reporter asked, “How was it walking with Dr. King during the various campaigns seeking to bring down the walls of Jim Crow segregation?” “It was tiring,” Lowery said wryly. “When you walked with him down the street, it took a long time to move from one point to another because everybody wanted to stop and talk to him. He was deeply dedicated to freedom for all people.” Lowery said that although the Civil Rights Movement created many opportunities, today’s youth “have not taken advantage of all of the opportunities which for us did not exist in days gone by.” Lowery said that King would be impressed with the advances made by African Americans, but he would also be very “disappointed with the violence and the terror against each other in our community.” Lowery talked about an incident in Atlanta where a 15-year-old Gay youth was mercilessly beaten because of his sexual orientation. “They beat him without mercy. That kind of hatred and discrimination has no place in today’s world. We are missing an opportunity to let brotherhood and sisterhood be our hallmark. “King would be proud of the advances we’ve made in the civic and political world,” Lowery said. ”We got more Black-elected officials. That is something Dr. King would be proud of.


But he would be terribly disappointed with the violence and lack of civility that we exhibit between each other.” Lowery said that SCLC which he helped establish in 1957, despite naming a new president, is undergoing stresses. He said he not been in touch with SCLC leaders in a long time. “I have not had an opportunity to be advised on how they are doing. But I do know they are having a tough time.” Lowery was asked about the advances created by the Civil Rights Movement which he feared were vulnerable to being reversed. “The Republicans who are really old Dixie-crats (50s and 60s segregationists) are trying to turn back the clock, particularly in terms of voting rights,” said Lowery. “They could not stop voting rights but now they are trying to stop the voting results by putting up barriers and impediment to the ballot box.” “Georgia, where I live and MLK lived and was born, is a leading impediment to voting and immigrations rights,” Lowery continued. “We used to say ‘thank goodness for Mississippi’ because it was the most racist and poorest state in the union.

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Now it’s Georgia because it is seeking to reverse the voting and civil rights of Blacks and Hispanics.” Lowery scoffed at the idea of a post racial America, in the wake of the election of President Obama. “I would have laughed if it not had been so sad,” Lowery said. ”Race is still a part of our lives. We are unfortunately going through a period politically which is being dominated by conservative Republicans; it’s a counter revolution. Obama’s election was a wonderful thing and the world rejoiced. But there are people who were embittered by it. “Racism is an easy explanation for it all,” Lowery said. “They will deny it and they will use other words. For instance, in their effort to reduce voter turnout among minorities, they use excuses and words like ‘deterring voter fraud’. I do not know what they are talking about. Why do they have to watch Black folks at the polls? It’s hard to get us to vote once, let alone twice.” Lowery said that apart from the activities of the Republican right, the biggest impediment to Black success is “us … our own selves.”


To counter this conservative revolution and impediments to civil and human rights in the United States and the ones Blacks create themselves, Lowery said, “we must rise up and meet that challenge with new vigor. The election of Obama to the presidency should have been a trigger, a jumpstart we needed to be the new creatures of change we need to succeed. “I have already said they (young Black college students) are the brightest generation we have ever had,” Lowery said. ”Listen to them; they have more advantages, more opportunism. They can do more with an iPod than I can do with a whole room of computers. But they are taking advantages of the advances we made, especially the spiritual advances we have made. “There is young woman named Beyonce (an R&B singer) who said a wonderful thing – that every time she hears Barack Obama, she wants to be ‘smarter, more informed; intelligent and get involved.’ This is the spirit we need to generate in our young people,” Lowery said. “They need to be more informed and determined to fight back the avalanche of negativity which is the biggest barrier. “Republicans represent the fierce opposition to our advancement, but they are successful to the degree that we allow them,” said Lowery.


“We are not vigorous and have the spiritual energy we need. Obama said ‘yes we can’, but we are not. We must call on the young. We can do it with your energy and your spirit.” Lowery said his legacy will be that of a small time preacher “that the Lord allowed to walk around and be a part of great spiritual movement.”

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