EXCLUSIVE w/ Rev. Joseph Lowery
writer: Andre Dash
photo: Google Images
Rev. Joseph Lowery (Vaughn Lowery's grandfather), Obama and 360 Magazine
Rev. Joseph Lowery, an unsung hero, was at the forefront of the civil rights movement. So, we interviewed him on his impact of the civil right movement, his times of doubt and also of personal triumph. In the wake of an historic election, we at 360 wanted to know what impact that has had on a civil rights pioneer. Recently, he received the Medal of Freedom from President Obama on August 12, 2009.

(360) What was it like to be apart of Obama's Inauguration?

"It was a tremendous spiritual experience as I stood looking down the
mall I saw an outline of Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King
stood 46 years earlier issuing a summons to the nation to move out of
the basement of race and color to the higher ground of 'content of
character'...I heard the summons with the ears of my soul and here I
was sharing in the nation's response to the summons inauguration of
the 44th President of the United States....


(360) How did you become involved in the civil rights movement?


Following the outlawing of the NAACP in Alabama. The Montgomery Improvement Association was organized in Montgomery; the Alabama Christian Movement for Human
Rights in Birmingham; and the Alabama Civic Affairs Association in
Mobile. Martin headed the Montgomery group, Fred Shuttlesworth, the
ACMHR, and I was elected to lead the Mobile organization. In the heat
of the movements in the mid-fifties, we would communicate with each
other via telephone and somebody suggested we should meet at least
monthly in Montgomery to coordinate, cooperate and commiserate.



(360) we know of the stand-ins the marches the protests and many other events that had they not happened, we may not enjoy some of the liberties we now accept as everyday life. What one event do you believe was most influential in the civil rights movement?


The Montgomery Bus Boycott was the center and core of the new born
civil rights movement which brought new dimensions to the struggle for
liberty and first class citizenship. The most significant among these
new dimensions, in my opinion, was the element of self-determination.
When more than 50,000 Black folks decided that the back of the bus was
no longer tolerable and that no matter what any body said, we were not
going to ride on the back of the bus, that was a child born in the
crib of the old Confederacy that was rocked into the cradle of an
emerging democracy It did not matter what the courts said; nor what
the city council said; nor what legislative bodies did or did not
enact, we were finished with the back of the bus!


(360) give us some of the details surrounding this momentous event. How could such a small boycott catch so much attention and support from the southern Negro population?


The bus (public transit) was the great common
denominator in the community. Nobody need persuade the people that
Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger
represented the feelings of all "colored" patrons, for everyone who
ever rode the bus had felt the sting of denigration. They were all
tired of having to stand up so whites could sit down. Even black folks
who didn?t ride the bus had a mama or an auntie or a brother or a papa
who did and who had shared the taste of the bitter cup of humiliation
they all had drunk on this common denominator, this racial
discriminator, this dehumanize. So, experientially and vicariously,
all 50,000 took the boycott personally and seriously! It was the most
effective mass movement in our history!


The boycott was like a dose of spiritual castor oil that cleansed the body politic from the disease of fear. They had discovered what it meant to be free-at last. They
didn't care about their sore feet, but rejoiced in their glad hearts
and rested souls


In addition to the common, denominator factor, the movement had the skillful leadership of
Martin Luther King, Jr., who brought, in eloquent fashion, the moral
imperatives of our faith to bear on the critical areas of oppression
and persecution on the basis of race and color. We were no longer
content to just preach about making heaven our home, but felt called
to make our homes here heavenly.


(360) we understand the intense persecution that the Negro population felt during this time. From violent backlash from police to ignorant restaurant owners refusing to serve "COLORED PEOPLE", What backlash had you personally felt as a result of your role in the movement?


The threat of violence was always present whether real or imaginary. One meeting was disrupted by the bombing of Ralph's home (and other
sites-churches) in Montgomery. Fortunately, (no thanks to the
perpetrators) there were no fatalities nor injuries. Undeterred by
cowardly acts of terrorism, we met in February in New Orleans and SCLC
was born, although that name came through a process of semantic
evolution.


I remember vividly one encounter on a bus. In Mobile, we designated a day when teams of ministers from the Interdenominational Alliance would ride the buses two by two and
occupy seats up front. Our workshops had taught us skills and
practices to put into play should we be challenged, or whatever. Since
I was the president, the group thought I should ride the Prichard
route, which was probably the most likely to meet objections in
whatever form. The Rev. Sam McCree, pastor of the Mt. Zion Baptist
church was my teammate and we drove downtown and caught the bus to
Prichard, a northern suburb. We took the first front facing seat.
There were a couple of whites across from us and several blacks behind
us. The ride was uneventful for about ten minutes, and then a white
passenger boarded with a sack in his hand. It was obvious he had been
imbibing from the vessel in the sack. He took the side seat
immediately behind the bus driver. For a couple of blocks or so, he
didn?t notice the two black preachers sitting up front. Suddenly, he
became aware of us and began to stare. He touched the driver on the
shoulder and instructed him to "make them n---git back!" The driver
told him to let him run the bus, but the passenger became angry and
said,":by God, I"ll make'em git back". He grabbed his sack by the
neck and started toward us. I whispered to Sam, "We'll see if that
non-violent stuff works. As he approached us with raised sack, I
stood and said in a firm voice, "Sir, please take your seat, we wish
you no harm and I'm sure you do not wish to harm us. Please sit, it is
not safe to stand while the bus is moving!" The bus driver was
watching in the mirror and easing the bus to the curb.

The irate passenger sat down! I sat down. Rev. McCree sat down. No
one was more surprised when the angry passenger sat down than the two
black preachers! We had sung the Lord's song in a strange land!


(360) You have been involved in the most violent and racially turbulent times in our nation's history. Looking forward, what hope does a black president bring to the plight of the African American population?


"It was a tremendous spiritual experience as I stood looking down the
mall I saw an outline of Lincoln Memorial where Martin (Luther King)
stood 46 years earlier issuing a summons to the nation to move out of
the basement of race and color to the higher ground of 'content of
character'...I heard the summons with the ears of my soul and here I
was sharing in the nation's response to the summons inauguration of
the 44th President of the United States....

THE ELECTION OF OBAMA SHOULD GIVE ALL OF US THE COURAGE TO CHANGE.TO
GROW INTELLECTUALLY AND SPIRITUALLY....BEYONCE SAID THE OTHER DAY
"WHEN I THINK OF PRES OBAMA, I WANT TO BE SMARTER..TO BE MORE
INVOLVED" THIS TRANSFORMATION SHOULD HAPPEN TO ALL OF US...BE
SMARTER..GET MORE INVOLVED...GROW SPIRITUALLY AND INTELLECTUALLY..AND
WE WILL FIND STRENGTH TO OVERCOME OUR PROBLEMS..FINANCIALLY AND EMOTIONALLY.