Joseph Lowery’s procession and funeral: small, but meaningful for tireless leader

A private funeral was held for the late civil rights icon Rev. Rev. Joseph Lowery in Atlanta Saturday.

Joseph E. Lowery: 1921-2020

When asked how he was doing, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, without fail, would always say the same thing.

“I am just an old man, doing young things,” he would say. “I am tired but happy.”

On Saturday, 52 years ago after the death of his friend and confidante, Martin Luther King Jr., Lowery was laid to rest.

It was not without one last trip around a now quiet city he has called home since 1968.

Rev. Joseph Lowery photographed on Auburn Ave. Oct. 2, 2001. Photo: JOEY IVANSCO/AJC
Rev. Joseph Lowery photographed on Auburn Ave. Oct. 2, 2001. Photo: JOEY IVANSCO/AJC

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Lowery, who spoke at King’s memorial after the civil rights leader was assassinated in 1968; who spoke at the massive funeral of “The Mother of the Civil Rights Movement,” Rosa Parks; and whose speech at the funeral of Coretta Scott King drew praise and criticism, didn’t get the grand funeral that his career and 98 years deserved.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has already killed nearly 10,000 Americans (and counting) and has forced millions more into isolation and social distancing, including Georgians who were placed under a statewide shelter-in-place order, Lowery’s funeral was a quiet ceremony — attended by just 10 family members.

A large public memorial is scheduled for Oct. 6, 2020, which would have been Lowery’s 99th birthday. Lowery was buried next to his wife, Evelyn, who died in 2013.

“Our father always encouraged everyone to act in service for the common good,” said Cheryl Lowery, president and CEO of the Joseph & Evelyn Lowery Institute, and the couple’s youngest daughter. “In these unprecedented times, the best way for each of us to do that is to follow guidance from our public health and state officials to prevent community spread of coronavirus.”

Lowery died at his Cascades home on March 27.

He was buried on April 4, the same day King was assassinated in Memphis.

In a Sept. 25, 1963 photo, The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., left, vice president Joseph E. Lowery, and Wyatt Tee Walker, right, executive director of the SCLC meet at First African Baptist Church, for the SCLC convention in Richmond, Virginia. Archive.
In a Sept. 25, 1963 photo, The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., left, vice president Joseph E. Lowery, and Wyatt Tee Walker, right, executive director of the SCLC meet at First African Baptist Church, for the SCLC convention in Richmond, Virginia. Archive.

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Lowery and King became close in the 1950s when both were rising as prominent civil rights figures. In 1957, Lowery worked with King to start the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Lowery was the first chairman of the SCLC’s board and would go on to serve as the organization’s longest-serving president from 1977 until 1997.

In his life, shown through this final ride through Atlanta, it was hard to imagine that Lowery ever got tired, despite his claims.

With a small processional, the hearse carrying Lowery’s body traveled down Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard, the street renamed for him in 2001.

The first stop was at Central United Methodist Church, where Lowery was assigned in 1968. He was the pastor of the church for 18 years, growing it to more than 2,000 members and overseeing the construction of a 240-unit housing complex for low-income families.

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The processional then stopped at Clark Atlanta University, home of the Lowery Institute. The institute was founded in 2001 to forward Lowery’s commitment to non-violence advocacy, and to the moral, ethical and theological imperative of justice and human rights for all people.

The last stop was at Cascade United Methodist Church, where Lowery served as pastor from 1986 until 1992.

A horse-drawn caisson attended by men in black suits and top hats then carried Lowery’s casket past his home on Cascade Road and on to Westview Cemetery where the family gathered for a graveside service, officiated by Cascade’s senior pastor, Kevin R. Murriel.

The brief graveside program concluded with Lowery’s daughters, Yvonne, Karen and Cheryl, singing, “I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired.”

Read and sign the online guestbook for Rev. Joseph Lowery

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