Morehouse College secures papers of civil rights giants Joe and Evelyn Lowery

Civil rights leaders Joseph Lowery and wife Evelyn Lowery shown in their Atlanta home Sept. 13, 2013. Evelyn suffered a stroke five days later and died on September 26.
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Civil rights leaders Joseph Lowery and wife Evelyn Lowery shown in their Atlanta home Sept. 13, 2013. Evelyn suffered a stroke five days later and died on September 26.

Credit: BRANT SANDERLIN /BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

Credit: BRANT SANDERLIN /BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

Follows 2008 acquisition of Martin Luther King Jr.’s collection

Thirteen years after securing the historic papers of Martin Luther King Jr., Morehouse College has scored another important trove that chronicles the civil rights movement.

On Wednesday, the college announced that the family of Joseph and Evelyn Lowery has donated their official and personal papers, photographs, documents, writings, speeches, notes, travel diaries and other mementos to the Atlanta historic Black college and university.

While the full extent of the collection isn’t known yet, it could be monumental. The Lowerys, who were married for 63 years, started several civil and human rights organizations and were each instrumental in several major initiatives.

“No discussion about civil rights in America will ever be complete without referencing the contributions of Joseph and Evelyn Lowery,” said Morehouse College President David A. Thomas.

Like the King Papers, the Lowery collection will be archived and curated at the Atlanta University Center’s Robert W. Woodruff Library to be used by scholars, researchers and students. The collection will be digitized to provide broader, online viewing access.

Cheryl Lowery, president and CEO of the Joseph and Evelyn Lowery Institute for Justice and Human Rights, said an anonymous donor is financing the digitization of the papers.

The Atlanta History Center exhibited a moving display of the Martin Luther King Jr. papers that had been acquired by Morehouse College.
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The Atlanta History Center exhibited a moving display of the Martin Luther King Jr. papers that had been acquired by Morehouse College.

Credit: W.A. Bridges Jr. / Staff

Credit: W.A. Bridges Jr. / Staff

Clark Atlanta University — home of the Joseph and Evelyn Lowery Institute for Justice and Human Rights, which is marking its 20th anniversary — will have exhibition rights.

“Clark Atlanta University has always been at the forefront of the civil rights movement and a part of its history,” said CAU President George T. French Jr. “This historic collection will serve as invaluable resources for our scholars during their matriculation at CAU.”

Cheryl Lowery, the youngest daughter of the couple, said it makes perfect sense that the gift is to be shared among the different AUC schools and joint library.

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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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.

“My father operated in the spirit that the world was his parish,” Lowery said. “His words and works knew no walls and extended beyond the pulpit into the streets and the suites. In that spirit, it is fitting that the Joseph Echols Lowery and Evelyn Gibson Lowery Collection will be owned by, housed on, and fully accessible to the Atlanta University Center Schools, which they loved and by which they were loved.”

Lowery said the gift was, for her, an extension of her parents’ work.

Joseph Lowery, who was a founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and its longest-serving president was a witty and dedicated civil rights leader who was named by Ebony Magazine as one of the best preachers in America and also given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama.

President Barack Obama presents a 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rev. Joseph Lowery who has been a leader of the civil rights movement since the 1950s, and co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King, Wednesday.
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President Barack Obama presents a 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rev. Joseph Lowery who has been a leader of the civil rights movement since the 1950s, and co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King, Wednesday.

Credit: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Credit: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Lowery died March 27, 2020. He would have turned 100 on October 6, 1921.

As closely tied as she was to her husband, Evelyn Lowery was one of the rare wives of civil rights leaders ― along with Coretta Scott King ― who charted their own paths.

She was the founder of SCLC/ W.O.M.E.N (Women’s Organizational Movement for Equality Now, Inc.), which instituted programs on global issues including HIV/AIDS, computer and GED education for women, mentoring for girls, and civil rights history. A graduate of what is now CAU, she also created 13 monuments honoring civil rights heroes and a civil rights heritage tour.

She died in 2013.

990603-06/03/99-JOHN SPINK/staff-ATLANTA/FULTON COUNTY- Evelyn Lowery (CQ) founder and chair of the board of the SCLC/ WOMEN INC. has been preparing for the 20th anniversary celebration to be observed Friday.
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990603-06/03/99-JOHN SPINK/staff-ATLANTA/FULTON COUNTY- Evelyn Lowery (CQ) founder and chair of the board of the SCLC/ WOMEN INC. has been preparing for the 20th anniversary celebration to be observed Friday.

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

Curators at the AUC Woodruff Library will inventory and begin the preservation process. Staff there prepared the King papers.

The King collection is the most studied collection in the Woodruff archive that includes, among others, the papers of former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, scholar C. Eric Lincoln and rapper Tupac Shakur.