By Alysha Conner | The Atlanta Voice
The city of Atlanta renamed Ashby Street to Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard in 2001 to recognize the man
who devoted over 50 years of his life to civil rights and social change.
Located west of downtown Atlanta in the West End neighborhood, Joseph E. Lowery Blvd. coincidentally intersects both Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Ralph David Abernathy Expressway; conveniently running past the Atlanta University Center (AUC) where the
Joseph and Evelyn Lowery Institute for Justice and Human Rights (Lowery Institute) calls Clark Atlanta University home.
Established the same year as Lowery Blvd.’s renaming, the Lowery Institute is devoted to training, developing, empowering, and inspiring young leaders to improve their communities for the common good.
Lowery’s daughter, Cheryl Lowery is the current president and chief executive officer of
the Lowery Institute.
A member of the founding board, she was once the institute’s treasurer.
“The institute is housed on the campus of Clark Atlanta University, because Clark Atlanta determined that they wanted to create an institute on this campus,” Lowery said.
“My father is a retired United Methodist minister, and this is a United Methodist school. My mother also was an Alumni of Clark College, so Clark Atlanta was a natural fit.”
Lowery also shared, “We are really aligned in terms of our social justice and wishes for young people. It’s a wonderful relationship, and we’re proud to be on this campus.”
A Huntsville, Alabama native, Lowery earned his bachelor’s degree from Paine College in Augusta, Georgia.
After graduating he entered the Paine Theological Seminary to become a Methodist minister and went on to graduate from the Chicago Ecumenical Institute in 1950 with a doctorate in divinity.
While Lowery is famously known for being one of the leaders of the Montgomery bus boycott and the march of 1965 from Selma to Montgomery, he also assisted in founding the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders.
While Dr. King served as the SCLC president, Lowery was appointed as the vice-president.
In 1967, Lowery became the national chairman, and member of the board of directors for SCLC and after King’s assassination in 1968, Lowery took over as pastor at the Central Church in Atlanta; thereafter, he became president and CEO of SCLC in 1977.
Lowery continued his work in civil rights in 1982 by leading the longest civil rights march from Tuskegee, Alabama, to Washington, D.C., to promote the extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Lowery retired from ministry in 1992, and left SCLC in 1997, the same year he received the Lifetime
Achievement Award from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
He’s received the Martin Luther King Jr. Center Peace Award (2004), the National Urban League’s Whitney M. Young Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award. Lowery also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2009) after delivering the benediction at the inauguration of former President Barack Obama.