The Rev. Joseph Lowery was a pastor at Warren Street United Methodist Church in Mobile, Ala., when he met the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the mid-1950s.
As president of the ministerial alliance in Mobile, Lowery received an offering from all the churches in the city to support the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott that began in December 1955 under King’s leadership. And in 1957, he co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with King and served as president and chief executive officer from 1977 to 1998.
Narrator: The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stood for equality for all. Many United Methodists valued his vision and his leadership. The Rev. Joseph Lowery described King’s impact on him and others.
(Voice of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.) Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi, from every mountainside.
The Rev. Joseph Lowery: He was perhaps the most spiritually empowered person in terms of the struggle for human justice and human rights that I ever met. I consider myself having been blessed to have known him so well and for so long, and yet I wish it could have been longer. He used to say to me, “Joe, I’ll never live to be 40.” I was all, “Come on, man, you gon’ live to be old, like Ol’ Rip Van Winkle. You gon’ be old, this long beard, dragging the ground.” But he was right. He died at 39. The fact that he lived under the danger, the fear of death and in the shadow of death, it never affected his commitment to move on the journey toward freedom and justice. And he often said, if a man doesn’t have something he can die for then he’d question whether he has anything really to live for. You really don’t understand nonviolence as a lifestyle until you get in the midst of a crisis. But as we moved through the struggle, it became a way of life. And love, which we think perhaps subconsciously was there all the time as we were followers of Jesus Christ, well, that love came out. And love translates itself into nonviolence. We were careful that we did not hate because we never hated white people. We hated the deeds and the policies and the practices that characterized life in those days and, to some extent, today as well. We wanted to redeem people. I thank him for the inspiration that he provided for me, not only in his life but even in his death. When I think of him and his courage, I found strength.
The Rev. Joseph Lowery died in March 2020, at the age of 98.
The Rev. Joseph Lowery reflected on the life and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during an exclusive interview with United Methodist Communications in 2003.
King named Lowery chairman of the delegation delivering the demands of the Selma to Montgomery March to Gov. George Wallace in 1965. Wallace had ordered troopers to beat the marchers in what came to be called Bloody Sunday. In 1995, as Lowery led the 30th anniversary reenactment of that day, Wallace apologized to him.
Lowery is founder of the Black Leadership Forum, a consortium of U.S. advocacy organizations. He was among the first five African Americans arrested at the South African Embassy in Washington in the Free South Africa movement. He has led protests for environmental justice movements, and spoken out for election reform, criminal justice system reform and improving the quality of governance.
View all the videos of United Methodists who walked with Martin Luther King Jr. and share his dream.
This video encore was posted in February, 2015.