Partial Transcript: H: Rev. Lowery I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule, and welcome to the institute.
L: Well, thank you for inviting me to this marvelous institute, I’m glad to be here.
H: Yes sir. Dr. Lowery, are you native Alabamian?
L: Well, yes, but I’m an authentic Northerner. Although, you folks here in Birmingham consider yourselves North Alabama, I’m from the real North Alabama, Huntsville. I was born in Huntsville, Alabama, Madison County.
Segment Synopsis: Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery begins his interview by describing his family history. He discuses his mother and father's education and work.
Keywords: Alabama A & M University
Subjects: African American families; African American religious leaders; Huntsville (Ala.); Madison County (Ala.)
Map Coordinates: 33.516200, -86.813870
Partial Transcript: H: What was it like growing up in Huntsville? Young black men living in Birmingham as being the, you would say in the big city from the country, who was as less than a 100 miles from north of here. How was that different?
Segment Synopsis: Rev. Dr. Lowery talks about his early life in Huntsville including facing racism. He mentions two incidents in the family car where his father played off his mother's light skin to get out of racist situations. And another incident where as a child he was punched in the stomach by a white police officer, and later talked to the man as an adult. Lowery also talks about seeing the KKK march down his street.
Subjects: African American life; Huntsville (Ala.); Racism--United States
Partial Transcript: H: What about your high school, days?
L: High school, it was very much segregated. When busing was an issue in the country, I always wondered why, because I used to see white kids on buses all the time. So, it wasn’t the bus, it was us they that they were concerned about. I used to walk all the way from down on Church Street down into the grove. We called the grove, to the black school, the colored school.
Segment Synopsis: Rev. Dr. Lowery outlines his education through seminary school. He mentions going to a segregated school, having confrontations with white children, and going to school in Chicago. Lowery also discusses the path that led him to the ministry including his mother's church involvement, speaking in church at a young age, and influential pastors.
Keywords: NAACP; The Grove
Subjects: African American Presbyterian churches; African American life; African American religious leaders; Alabama A & Chicago (Ill.); Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary; M University; Segregation in education; Wayne University
Partial Transcript: And that was the ministry that led me into the movement, that was the theology, that was the concept of ministry that led me to civil rights.
H: When did that happen?
L: That happened right at East Thomas. My first year at East Thomas, I wasn’t there but a year, but I got involved in activities that were co-protestant.
Segment Synopsis: Rev. Dr. Lowery describes his first involvement with the Civil Rights Movement while he was living in Mobile. He also describes the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the desegregation of buses in Mobile.
Keywords: Alabama Civic Affairs Association; NAACP
Subjects: Alexander City (Ala.); Civil rights movement; King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968; Langer, Jo; Mobile (Ala.); Montgomery (Ala.); Montgomery Bus Boycott, Montgomery, Ala., 1955-1956
Partial Transcript: H: How did the outlawing of the NAACP affect Mobile?
Segment Synopsis: Rev. Dr. Lowery talks about the Alabama Christian Movement, MIA and Syndicate Affairs Association. He discusses the story behind the Supreme Court case: New York Times v. Sullivan.
Keywords: Syndicate Affairs Association
Subjects: Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights; Black, Hugo, Jr., 1922-2013; Civil rights movement; Mobile (Ala.); United States. Supreme Court
Partial Transcript: H: SCLC, how did you get organized?
Segment Synopsis: Rev. Dr. Lowery discusses the formation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
Subjects: Abernathy, Ralph, 1926-1990; African American religious leaders; Civil rights movement; King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968; Shuttlesworth, Fred L., 1922-2011; Southern Christian Leadership Conference
Partial Transcript: H: Now back from 1960 to 1963 there were a number of things that took place. Of course the organization of SNCC, the freedom ride took place in 1961, in Birmingham in 1962 there was a selective buying campaign, and in Albany, Georgia, took place in 1962. Birmingham then would come along in ’63. Why did you leave Mobile?
Segment Synopsis: Rev. Dr. Lowery talks about his involvement in both the Nashville and Birmingham Movement s from 1961-1968, including some of the violence in Birmingham like the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.
Subjects: 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing, Birmingham, Ala., 1963; A.G. Gaston Motel (Birmingham, Ala.); African American religious leaders; Civil rights movement; Nashville (Tenn.); Sixteenth Street Baptist Church (Birmingham, Ala.)
Partial Transcript: I was vice-president of SCLC then, and I was organizing up until ’67. At the convention in Atlanta Martin asked me if I would serve as chairman of the board. We didn’t have a chairman of the board. They asked me if I would be chairman of the board, and I agreed to do that. So I could preside at the meetings, and take some of the weight off of his shoulders and I did that, but he always wanted me to come to Atlanta, and I said, no my place is here. The Birmingham News had just had an editorial about blacks will be elected to public office and other blacks will qualify, and they named a bunch of names and mine was one of them. I said, well maybe its time for me to leave Birmingham.
Segment Synopsis: Rev. Dr. Lowery talks about moving to Atlanta in 1968 at the request of Martin Luther King Jr. and becoming the President of SCLC in 1977-1998. He also mentions the Labor Movement and Walter Reuther.
Subjects: Abernathy, Ralph, 1926-1990; Atlanta (Ga.); Civil rights movement; King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968; Labor movement--United States--History--20th century; Reuther, Walter, 1907-1970; Southern Christian Leadership Conference
Partial Transcript: H: The book that, the controversy, the book that Reverand Abernathy wrote, and that was during the time you were in the fore-front. How did that play?
Segment Synopsis: Rev. Dr. Lowery discusses the contriver around Ralph Abernathy's book and the FBI tapes of King and other Civil Rights leaders.
Subjects: Abernathy, Ralph, 1926-1990; Hoover, J. Edgar (John Edgar), 1895-1972; King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968; United States. Federal Bureau of Investigation
Partial Transcript: H: Let me ask you a question about the women in the movement, the wives of the leaders. I know that there probably were times when you had to go some place and your wife may say, well you know... How did you handle that relationship, keep that relationship together and be successful?
Segment Synopsis: Rev. Dr. Lowery talks about how his work ing the Movement affected his family and his relationship with his wife, He then goes on to describe in detail giving Gov. Wallace the Movement's list of demands in 1965. He also methods later encounters with Wallace.
Subjects: African American women; Civil rights movement; Selma to Montgomery Rights March (1965 : Selma, Ala.); Wallace, George C. (George Corley), 1919-1998
Partial Transcript: H: Reverend Lowery, you have had a tremendous career in life, but you obviously have not finished.
L: I’m retired. What do you mean? I have been retired two years now. Nobody believes me.
Segment Synopsis: Rev. Dr. Lowery discusses some of the causes he helped champion since his retirement including working with farmers, automobile dealers, and promoters. He also reflects on the President's visit to Selma in 2000 and many other changes since the Civil Rights Movement.
Keywords: People's Agenda
Subjects: Atlanta (Ga.); Civil rights movement; Selma (Ala.)
HUNTLEY: This is an interview with Reverend Joseph E. Lowery for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institutes Oral History Project. Im Dr. Horace Huntley. Today is April 11 in the year 2000. Rev. Lowery I want to thank you for taking time out of your busyschedule, and welcome to the institute.
LOWERY: Well, thank you for inviting me to this marvelous institute, I'm glad tobe here.
HUNTLEY: Yes sir. Dr. Lowery, are you native Alabamian?
LOWERY: Well, yes, but I'm an authentic Northerner. Although, you folks here inBirmingham consider yourselves North Alabama, I'm from the real North Alabama, Huntsville. I was born in Huntsville, Alabama, Madison County.
HUNTLEY: Right. Because of most of us now, we, actually migrated from the South,out of Black Belt counties. So, there is some real significance to you being from North Alabama I think. Let me just talk about your family for a minute. 00:01:00Tell me about your mother and father. What kind of education do they have?
LOWERY: Well, my father went to a little training school in Huntsville withProfessor McKinley, who is a noted figure in the 19th century in Huntsville, and he probably did not finish what we consider, now, high school. My mother went to a Normal, which is now Alabama A&M. And she taught school, but she probably had about the equivalent of a junior college, I think, education. But both of them were very intelligent, very very informed, and inspired me considerably. They were active church people. My mother sang in the choir for about 150 years, and 00:02:00my father was a reluctant church member. And that my mother spent so much time in church, my father decided he needed to go just to see what was going on. He became the Treasurer of the church, and it's very interesting, the church where I grew up in Huntsville, Lakeside. My father's grandfather, Rev. Green Echols, was the first African-American Pastor of my church. The church was founded by the old AME Church North and had a white pastor. And after plenty years my great-grandfather came here and became the first black pastor of that church.
HUNTLEY: So that would have been late 19th century?
LOWERY: That's right. No that would have been, yes, yes, yes--that's correct.00:03:00
HUNTLEY: Somewhere between the emancipation and the 20th century.
LOWERY: That's right, the 20th century. That's correct.
HUNTLEY: How many siblings did you have?
LOWERY: Well, I had-- my parents lost two children before I was born. My fatherwas named Leroy and this boy was named Roy, and then the girl was born Alba Lee, and she passed away as well. So, I was the first surviving child, and then I had a sister, born three years later. So, there was the two of us there in Huntsville.
HUNTLEY: What kind of work did your father do?
LOWERY: My father was a, it's a very interesting story, he worked in an officeof a physician, old Dr. Scruggs, in Huntsville. The earliest recollection I have of any physician was Dr. Scruggs. My father was still alive when I was old enough to remember. My father worked for him as a single man, and the deal was 00:04:00he used to go to Nashville, and somehow enroll in pharmacy school and come back and be the pharmacist, and Dr. Scruggs was to write the prescriptions, and they would have a partnership. So, my father didn't have the money. And, so, he borrowed, he and a friend, borrowed some money and some equipment to open a little ice cream parlor; with a couple of pool tables. And he decided to work for a year or two, and then go on to pharmacy school. It took him the two years to pay for the equipment, and so he had to stay another two to earn the money to go to school.
He ended up staying 60 years, running a little business in Huntsville. Never didgo to pharmacy school, but it was in the context of what Huntsville is about. A very successful entrepreneur. He bought some property and opened another 00:05:00business a sweet shop and then he opened another billiard parlor. And he became interested in insurance and was elected to the board of directors of Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company, very prominent insurance company among any African- American who has ever been to Chicago. So, he was an enterprising man.
HUNTLEY: Sounds like he was very respected individual.
LOWERY: Very respected in the community, and probably had more influence on myoutlook on life, my ideals, my principles in terms of my behavior, my integrity, probable influence in any other individual, in my life. My mother did too, and that was to be expected, I guess that was so expected that you couldn't see the trees for the forest, or the forest for the trees, because my mother explained 00:06:00it. But you didn't always have the father's who set that kind of example. And I remember he use to write, on the board up on the front of the sweet shop little sayings every week, and he would sit down and discuss them with me. The first one I remember was "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." I don't know who said it, but my daddy is the reason I remember it. So, he had tremendous influence on my life. He was a man of great honor, great integrity, great industry, he was a hardworking man, and there's no such thing as a self-made man, but I guess my daddy came as close to being independent in terms of his upward mobility, as you could be. Of course, he had help, but he was pretty much alone as far as family was concerned. His mother, I remember her 00:07:00very well. But his father he did not remember too well, was part Cherokee who sort of came through on the Dela la Rosa and didn't remember him to well. But his mother, Ma Paulee also had a great influence on my life. She was a domestic, but a woman of great dignity, great beauty, great charm, and raised two boys practically by herself, and did a marvelous job. So, she and my father, that stream, had a great deal to do with the molding and shaping of my life.
HUNTLEY: What was it like growing up in Huntsville? Young black men living inBirmingham as being the, you would say in the big city from the country, who was as less than 100 miles from north of here. How was that different?
LOWERY: Let me tell you, Huntsville is a, not an industrial center like00:08:00Birmingham. It mostly was a cotton city; Madison County is agricultural. Huntsville was full of cotton gins, and cotton brokers who sold cotton across the country from offices in Huntsville. And the cotton was grown outside of town. Strange enough I lived in the city, such as it was, about two blocks from the railroad station. My grandmother, Ma Paulee, my daddy's mother, lived about a block from the railroad station, and whenever I got angry with my parents, and was going to leave home, I'd go ahead and go by Ma Paulee's and stay there awhile. If I was real angry, I'd go on to the railroad track and decide to catch a train, which I never caught. But it was a textile town. We did not have the terrible, awful kind of oppression in Huntsville. Maybe the fact that we were 00:09:00not such a large minority in the city, we didn't pose a threat that black belt communities and even Birmingham did. But we knew we were black, we knew we were colored. I remember at very early age, my father bought a new Studebaker. We were in the car, he had my mother in the front seat, I was in the backseat, and I guess my sister was there, I don't remember, but that sounds like a boy doesn't it?, but the police stopped my daddy. I don't know if he didn't fully stop for the stop sign or what, and it was a brand-new car. I guess he didn't expect colored people to have brand new cars, and he said, "whose car is this boy," and my daddy said, "this is Mr. Lowery's car," "Mr. Lowery's car, oh okay, 00:10:00you drive it carefully, here," and then drove on. I think he may have thought my mother was white, I'm not sure, and my daddy was the driver. But he let him go on and that puzzled me. I was very, very young and I remember asking dad about it and he gave me the best kind of explanation a very young boy could take, I guess. One other time I remember my daddy and my mother, I, and I guess my sister was present, he had a flat tire. He was changing the flat tire and looked around and saw about four big old hrd nail boots, and he looked up and there four of the biggest rednecks he had ever seen. They used bad language, "what is ##&*^ (so and so) are you doing boy?" He said, "shhhh! My Miss in the car, oh Miss don't like no cussing," he said, "Oh, excuse me," took his hat off and saw 00:11:00my mother, and said "get up little boy," and help changed the tire for him. I'm sitting in the car, mother and I trembling. And he's out there trying to keep from laughing his crazy head off.
And finally, when they finished, he got in the car, and they say, "good eveningmiss, we glad to change your tire for you." My mother just bowed her head, and we drove off and soon as we got down the road he had to pull the car over because we were laughing.
HUNTLEY: What was his complexion?
LOWERY: My father was a little darker than I, but my mother was very fair. Shecould, if she wanted to, she could pass. Because her side, her family were all fair. There was a lot of integration in those days and I think on my mother's side, her mother participated in integrated sex, as many, black colored women 00:12:00had to do. Invasion, and rape. My daddy and I recall, from time to time, I didn't exactly understand, use to tease her a little bit about it, from time to time. She didn't take it too well. Later, when I was approaching teenage level, I was coming out of my dad's sweet shop one day, and I was three -fourths out the door, and a big red cop was running forth in the door. He thought that gave him rights, and he punched me in the stomach with his night-stick, and said, "get back nigger, don't you see a white man coming in the door." Of course, I got back, and he came in and he didn't know who I was, I didn't know who he was, 00:13:00and I cried and tried to wipe my eyes to keep from crying, I didn't want him to see me cry. I went down the street, lived about a block from the sweet shop. I remember seeing a little pearl handle pistol that my father had in the drawer. I went to get it. I couldn't look and find it. My mother kept asking what's wrong, what's wrong, but I wouldn't say. Finally, I found it, and started out the front door, what I was going to do, I'm not sure to this day, but that was my recourse. But strangely enough as I started down the steps, my father was coming up the steps. Now what's so strange about that is I guess most of my life in Huntsville I never saw my dad at home in the daytime, except on Sunday, it just didn't happen, he was working. He left home before dark, he ran his business, 00:14:00help was hard to find, he had to be janitor, cashier and everything. But for some reason he came home this afternoon. Probably, between three and four, I was out of school. He saw something was wrong, and asked me what was wrong, and saw my hand in my pocket. He took the gun away from me, and gave me a good sound spanking. I ought to be truthful, a good sound beating. My father was not a part of the nonviolence school.
HUNTLEY: Child abuse.
LOWERY: No, no. If they had child abuse laws in those days, my mother would havebeen in jail most of the time, and my father occasionally. I told him what happened. He went to the police chief, and the mayor to complain. They told him that they were sorry it happened, but that was the only kind of white man they 00:15:00could hire to be police and there was nothing they could do about it. My daddy didn't like it and came home and told me to forget it, choke it up, the experience will make you a better man, and this is the way the South is etc. My father, his insurance company, I mentioned, one year, he drove, let me go with him to Chicago, to the board meeting, a meeting of his life. It was a thrill to me because I had never been out of Huntsville, except to the country. When we got up there my father got his revenge. We were down in the loop, and we were in heavy traffic with another friend of ours whose mother lived next door to us, he was a physician. We were all in the car, and a cop yelled at Dr. Tate to come on, "Come on, why you hold traffic, come on." And he cursed G D and Dr. Tate said, "Don't curse me, damn you," and my daddy was shocked to hear a colored man 00:16:00talk to white police officer, and so he said, "yeah, don't yell at us like that," He got his little bit in, and I said, yeah too in the back seat, so we got our revenge for the incident at the sweet shop. But let me tell you this, many years later, I was pastoring my first church here in Birmingham, out in East Thomas, St. James. And I went home one day and was on the porch talking to my mother and my father and the postman came by. He gave the mail to my mother. I looked at him and he looked at me, and thoughts started running through my mind when he left. I said, mother. She said, "yes." I said, who was that man. 00:17:00She said, "well, I was hoping you wouldn't recognize him, that's Mr. Shields, that's the police officer who punched you in the stomach many years ago." And I went down the steps, I wanted to go catch him. My mother wasn't sure what my motives were, I intended just to talk with him, and he was coming back. And he said, "Mrs. Nora," he called her Ms. Nora, 'is this Joe.?' And she said, "yes." And my father by that time came to the end of the porch to see what happened. He said, "can I shake your hand?" We shook hands. He said, "I'm pastoring a little church out in the westside of Huntsville, and I understand you're pastoring a church in Birmingham." I said, yes, I am. He said, "Well, I want to tell you, I'm sorry." "I thought about it many times, mother and I talked many times, I 00:18:00never dreamed I'd run up on you, and I said, I understand, how you grew up and how we all grew up, and thank God we're growing out of it." He said, "yes, I'm out of it, I'd been born again, and I'm sorry, and I thank God," and he cried. Of course, he made me shed a tear, it was a moving story. But that was Huntsville. I only remember one-time hearing talk about the KKK. They had some kind of little march up Church Street, Church street road came from the depot, and right into the heart of town. I remember my mother, my father wasn't there, he couldn't get there, my mother closed all the curtains and made us come back in the bedroom and not go to the front, cut the lights out. I slipped out, crawled up the hallway and peeped out the dining room window. I saw them. It was 00:19:00only about 15 or 20 of them, seemed to not have hoods on, they all had on sheets, and it was a frightening experience for me, as a boy.
HUNTLEY: I could imagine that experience, I experienced that myself.
LOWERY: That was Huntsville, it was a good mixture. Alabama A&M was there.
HUNTLEY: What about your high school, days?
LOWERY: High school, it was very much segregated. When busing was an issue inthe country, I always wondered why, because I used to see white kids on buses all the time. So, it wasn't the bus, it was us they that they were concerned about. I used to walk all the way from down on Church Street down into the grove. We called the grove, to the black school, the colored school.
HUNTLEY: Passing other schools.
LOWERY: Pass one other school. But white kids passed us in buses, going to thewhite school. And we had to go through a white neighborhood to get to our 00:20:00school. There were some white kids, whose names I won't mention because they may be some family to some people who still live there. But about once or twice a week, my friends and I would have a confrontation with these white kids. We had not been introduced to non-violence at that time. And I never saw them after we grew up, but they were infamous, those kids, and we use to throw rocks sometimes, throw fists at other times or go another way when we didn't feel like having a confrontation. But Huntsville was a southern textile mill town. There were certain parts of town we never went in. And I never saw too many white kids down in the grove. They could come up my street, because my street was right on 00:21:00downtown, and pretty much non-identifiable in that term. But you didn't see to many white kids in the grove and didn't see too many black kids out near the mill.
HUNTLEY: What did you do after high school?
LOWERY: I went to college at Knoxville college. And in the summer took someclasses at Alabama A&M. There I got involved with the NAACP, as a youth. And taught protest. It brought back memories, because I remember my dad carried me to a couple of church meetings. Old town hall meetings, where they would discuss race relations, and some incident. They had a fellow in town named Monk, and Monk was a bad fellow. But Monk every now and then would beat up a white fellow. 00:22:00And Monk would attend the meetings, and I remember my daddy saying in conversation with another doctor, that Monk was a bad nigger, and white folks thought he was crazy, and when they think you crazy you can get away. But when they think you intelligent, they don't like uppity negroes. But one that's crazy he gets away with a lot. I had tasted the race situation from all the perspectives I mentioned, and when I got exposed to the youth work with NAACP it tasted good to me. I had a familiar taste out of college, and I started teaching school for a while, but my daddy wanted me to go to law school.
HUNTLEY: You came back home and then?
LOWERY: I came back home over the summer, but in the meantime before I went tocollege, I was asking my daddy to send me to Chicago. He had some friends in 00:23:00Chicago, and I spent five years in Chicago going through elementary and two years of high school in Chicago at St.Vincent's Roman Catholic School, and Dusable High School. I treasure those years because they were very good schools and taught me the discipline of studying.
HUNTLEY: Who did you have in Chicago?
LOWERY: A very good friend of my father. I didn't learn until later that it wasthe brother of an old girlfriend of my father's, who he almost married, but she passed, and he married my mother. But he and the brother maintained good relationship. And when dad felt that the schools in Huntsville weren't doing what they ought to do, he sent me up there and I would come home in the summer, but I would go to Chicago during the school year.
HUNTLEY: That must have been an experience, going from Huntsville to Chicago.
LOWERY: Very interesting. And I guess it's good I went to the St. Vincent school00:24:00rather than a public school at first. Because St. Vincent's was so strict in terms of discipline, until I didn't have much choice to be flexible or irresponsible with the rules. They didn't tolerate it. So, I made a transition without to much pain and difficulty.
HUNTLEY: After you came back home did you ever have any desire to go back toChicago, to live in Chicago?
LOWERY: Yes, in a way I did, and in a way I didn't. I went back to Chicago for awhile, I studied for a couple of summers at Garrett, out in Evanston, and I lived in Detroit for a while. I studied a little bit there at Wayne. Just this past winter, Wayne University gave me an award named after the great labor leader with the autoworkers. 00:25:00
LOWERY: Walter Reuther and I was the first recipient of that award and it did megood because I had walked on the campus at Wayne and they gave me that award along with UAW. I always preferred the south, I don't know why. I guess it's because I grew up there, the neighborhoods, the neighborliness, the intimacy, the slower way of life I guess. And I came back after I went to-- in fact I came here to the theological seminary, in addition to Garrett for a while. Then I went to Garrett, but my first church was here in Birmingham.
HUNTLEY: When did you first get involved with the church in the community?
LOWERY: The church. You could leave my backyard and walk across the field and goto the church. So, I grew up at the church, as much as I did in the home. My 00:26:00mother was a substitute teacher, a choir singer, she ran, what they call, a harvest program every fall. They would have a harvest program, and my mother was always in charge. One of the things she did was have all the children bring in these sheaves. I ought to know what they are, but we called them sheaves, "bringing in the sheaves, and we'd wave them and wave them. I always did that so I could sing it in my sleep. Any occasion in the church I say the speech. Everybody told me, you are going to be a preacher. I always say, no I am not, when I get big enough When I get big enough where I don't have to come to church, y'all not go see me. But I grew up in the church. I had a couple of ministers, one in particular who was in Huntsville, Rev. Fields, who use to 00:27:00tease me about being a preacher. But then he would to take the time to talk to me about the ministry. And planted a seed that later on when I was getting out of college it hit me again, and all of the seeds he planted began to bear fruit. I met another preacher when I went to A&M a couple of summers named Sam Williams, who was teaching economics, he was a preacher. That did it. He was the radical. Although the other preachers were not radical the chaplain at Knoxville, Ben Evans, was between radical and conservative. But I think I had enough. My dad, when I told him I'm not going to law school. He wanted to go in law and major in business law. And I said I'm not going to law school; I'm going to seminary. And he said, "why?" I think the Lord wants me to preach. I said, 00:28:00you must have some understanding, your grandfather was a preacher, and all my in-laws on my mother's side, there were uncles that were preachers on her side of the family. He said, "well, I was so counting on you to go to law school. We own a lot down this street on the corner of Church and Arnold Street. Let's build a church there and you preach all you want to while you're going to law school." I said, daddy I don't think that's what the Lord had in mind. And I was very hurt that he wasn't enthusiastic. So, I preached my first sermon at my home church. And people in town heard, and when the word got out I was preaching my trial sermon, you couldn't get in the church.
HUNTLEY: How old were you?
LOWERY: I had come through college, but they did not believe that the good Joe00:29:00Lowery was going to preach. They had to come see it for themselves. Right on the front row was several young ladies I had known growing up, and I wished they would move in the back of the church. But I made it through and had a good time. My father came to me afterwards, and he said, "maybe the Lord did touch you." And then that Christmas I came back home. The Presbyterian Church was right next door to me and the pastor there asked me to preach the early Christmas morning service. I was thrilled, and that did it for my daddy, and he said, "I'm glad, I just wish my mother, Ma Paulee, had lived long enough to see you go into the ministry." But I guess all of that background when I went into the ministry, I didn't have to develop a wholistic theology, it was sort of engraved that 00:30:00the gospel had to do with the whole person, and the whole of life. And I always felt that it was time to make heaven your home, but it was always trying to make it a home here heavenly. And that was the ministry that led me into the movement, that was the theology, that was the concept of ministry that led me to civil rights.
HUNTLEY: When did that happen?
LOWERY: That happened right at East Thomas. My first year at East Thomas, Iwasn't there but a year, but I got involved in activities that were co-protestant.
HUNTLEY: This is in the mid 40s.
LOWERY: This was 1948, and the next year I went to Alexander City, and I stayedthere three years. Alexander City, I went there in 49 that was the movement was 00:31:00beginning to pick up then.
HUNTLEY: Were you married at the time?
LOWERY: Oh yes, I was married. And we had our first child at East Thomas. Andthen we went on from Alexander City to Mobile. It was in Mobile, I went to Mobile in fifty-two, and NAACP was meeting at my church and continued to meet, and NAACP was outlawed. And we organized other protest groups and I was selected President of what we called Alabama Civic Affairs Association, and headed the movement in Mobile. And when the boycott started in Montgomery, and Martin and Ralph issued their first demand, they had been sitting at the back of the bus 00:32:00and filing up to the front. And as white people got on, blacks had to get up and move back. We had been filling it back and when we filled up we'd have to get up. White folk would start at the front and if they filled up they didn't have to get up. So white filled up they sat we rode, we filled up we sat they rode. And so when Martin made the first demand, I had met him, I knew him already, I met in Boston and I met him again in Montgomery. I called him up, and I said, hey man, y'all asking for what we already got, don't ask for that, ask for the whole bag of peas, you know, no segregation. He said, "listen, don't worry, they are not going to give us that, so we chose to ask for the least and so when they refuse that, it will give us the psychological and spiritual advantage." And of course, they did. They denied that, they wouldn't do that, and the boycott followed.
HUNTLEY: Why the difference in Mobile and Montgomery?00:33:00
LOWERY: I think two reasons. Montgomery was in the middle of Alabama, and Mobilewas on the coast. So Mobile had the cosmopolitan flavor of shipping and the water and different cultures coming in, plus Mobile had a city commissioner, named Joe Langer very early on, and he was a very sensitive and fair-minded man. And he agreed to give the influence, and so Mobile just wasn't as violent, at least at first. So, when we decided to desegregated the buses I was President of the Minister of Alliance. We had some workshops on nonviolence and we divided the preachers up. two by two we go ride different bus lines and sit in the 00:34:00front. I had called and talked with Martin, I had carried, as President, the first $1000 up to the MIA while they were protesting. I remember sitting in the church waiting on Martin and Ralph to get there from across town, I had to come all the way from Mobile. They came and I gave them the money. I told them what we were going to do. So the fellows decided since I was the "leader" that I had to ride the Pritchett line which was number five. It's been a long time but I remember it. I as going out into the heart of crackerland and so Reverend S.N. McCree, pastor at Mount Zion Baptist Church. I met his son not long ago some place I was speaking, his son was there, but anyway he and I rode the bus, the 00:35:00Pritchett bus and sat on the front seat, and was facing from not on the side, but from when you first cross parallel seats. We got about halfway out there and a white fella got on with a bag. He obviously had a bundle in the bag. McCree said, "well here it comes." The bus driver hadn't said anything. He had been instructed not to bother us.
HUNTLEY: Is this during the Montgomery bus boycott?
LOWERY: This was early stages of the Montgomery bus boycott. Though the busboycott had ended, we started our desegregation process.
LOWERY: And when the guy sat down he was a little inebriated, and then he didn'trealize that these two black guys were sitting on the front seat. And finally, it dawned on him that the two blacks were up there, so he left you sitting on 00:36:00the side seat right behind the driver. He went over and told the driver, said "hey make them get back." The bus driver said, "you just ride, and I'll drive. I am in charge of the bus." So, the guy said, "by God if you don't make them get back, I will." So, then McCree I felt his hand slip in his pocket. I said don't do that Rev. McCree, you in my workshop now. The fella started back and I stood up. I said, sir! We are not bothering you, don't bother us. Sit down please and reach your destination and we will reach our destination in peace. Thank you sir. And he sat down. That was what we had learned in our workshop. Take the initiative, you know. And that was our first time trying out.
HUNTLEY: You disarmed you.
LOWERY: I took the advantaged, took the initiative, and took charge. I said toMcCree, it works man, it works. And I won't tell you what he said. He said, "but I'll be so and so, it did work." But I was worried Rev. McCree had a little 00:37:00bitty pocket knife in his pocket. I said, what was you going to do with that. That was what ended segregation on the buses in Mobile. About a month later we demanded that they hire black drivers.
HUNTLEY: And they did?
LOWERY: They did. It was six months. They hired them in ninety days. So, theybeat us to the punch. McBeal never made the headlines because we were making too much progress. That was the news. It was the violence, the bombing, and so forth in Montgomery and Birmingham that made the news. But Mobile moved quietly along and we even desegregated the lunch counters as well without too much difficulty.
HUNTLEY: How did the outlawing of the NAACP affect Mobile?
LOWERY: That's when I was elected president of the Syndicate AffairsAssociation. We organized independent organizations. Rev. McElroy and here it 00:38:00was called the Alabama Christian Movement, MIA in Montgomery, and Syndicate Affairs Association in Mobile, and that was how we ran the movement. Later, we were sued by the city commission in Montgomery and the Governor of Alabama for libel. Ralph Abernathy, Joseph Lowery, and Solomon Seay in Montgomery.
We were sued for libel. The people in New York were raising money for themovement put a big ad in the paper, "Heed their rising voices," and they called
and said that policemen were raiding the campus, and brutalizing, so forth, andthe city commission to the exception, and the n Governor Patterson had sued. And of course, they won the case.
HUNTLEY: Was that when they took your car?
LOWERY: This whole thing, they could find I owned in Mobile. Thank God they00:39:00didn't look in Huntsville. I had a little property my father had left in Huntsville, but they didn't think about it.
HUNTLEY: They didn't do their homework?
LOWERY: No, they did not. For what they found after they got the judgement, thethree-million-dollar judgement, was found my car in my name and they took that. They Ralph's car, took Fred's car, took Solomon Seay's car. They also found Ralph's home property in Marengo County. They found that and they took that as well, but they got new cars. The Baptist churches raised money and bought a new car. So, when the old car was sold in auction, they didn't worry about it. My folks being Methodist that they were went down to the auction and bought my old car, out bid everybody, for $800 and bought it back and gave it to my wife for a dollar and put in her name, do they couldn't get it. So, when they came to get 00:40:00my car, the YMCA campus was back of the Y, but in front of my house across the street, and a lot of kids were out there, and they threw rocks at the sheriff when he came to haul my car away.
HUNTLEY: Is that right?
LOWERY: That libel suit incidentally is the classic case on libel. It sets thestandard. Later we were vindicated by the Supreme Court and we had to give the money back..
HUNTLEY: Is that the Sullivan?
LOWERY: That's the Sullivan versus New York Times, and Abernathy, Lowery,Shuttlesworth, and Seay. Anthony Lewis called us and said his book "Make No Law" was built around that case, the first amendment.
LOWERY: What the ruling was---and the ruling was by Judge Hugo Black fromAlabama. He wrote to the majority opinion. You can't libel a public 00:41:00figure unless you are malicious. They have to prove malice. And of course they couldn't prove malice in most cases, so a public official is fair game. So we got our face back and Hugo Black from Alabama got these four Alabama preachers their money back.
HUNTLEY: SCLC, how did you get organized?
LOWERY: Well, the movements were going on in Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile,Tallahassee, Nashville, Baton Rouge, all these movements were going on. Most of them began with transportation, buses. Because transit--and I just completed 25 years on the board of the Transit Authority of Atlanta. In fact, I was chairman for three years during the Olympics. Because that was the closest, other than the police, that's the closet institution to the people. You have to ride the 00:42:00bus and so everybody was attracted. The Montgomery bus boycott was effective, not only because of great leadership, but because everybody had a personal thing.
LOWERY: That's right, if not you, your mama, your aunt, or your grandmother. Soit was a personal thing. So that became the issue. We were fighting for voter registration and such. They had voter registration and so forth, but Martin and Ralph, Fred and I at the beginning, Susie Gevalia in Tuskegee, we would try to meet in Montgomery at least once a month. If nothing else to cry on each other's shoulder about the terrible pain of oppression, and to plan strategies and so forth. It was at those meetings that we talked about a south-wide meeting. Five 00:43:00of us and others also agreed there ought to be a south-wide meeting. So a south-wide meeting was called at Ebenezer, toward the end of 1956. While we were there Ralph's house was bombed and it broke up the meeting, but we met again in late January or early February in New Orleans, and organized SCLC. We called ourselves at first the Southern Leadership Conference for more transportation and voting, and we just kept changing until finally it evolved to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
HUNTLEY: After the SCLC was organized, SNCC was organized in 1960--.
LOWERY: In 1957.
HUNTLEY: In 1960, SNCC is organized, what was the relationship?00:44:00
LOWERY: SCLC people like Jim Lawson and others were involved in pulling SNCC togetherin North Carolina. They had a good relationship. The good relationship began to be disintegrated into a fair relationship because no matter what happened or where we went, Martin got the press, the media. So the young guys resented us, and they didn't call us SCLC, they called us SLICK, and said these preachers can get all the media attention. And then some of them use to sing a little song. We talked about love and nonviolence, "too much love, too much love, nothing kill a nigga like too much love," and that was their way of ridiculing nonviolence. But we had a good relationship. As a matter of fact, we met here in Birmingham at the A.G. Gaston motel to plan a voting rights campaign. We had to get the vote...'64 the bill had passed because of the Birmingham movement- the Public Accommodations Bill, but we still couldn't vote. Martin met with President, Johnson, and said well we can't have another bill so quick. Good God. Let this bill kinda sink in. But then we came here and decided to go to Selma. 00:45:00
SNCC was already in Selma. Clay--and some other people were in Selma, but theyweren't doing well. They were beating him to the ground. So we decided to join SNCC in Selma, and--Martin went there, they were-- SCLC and moved the--and the rest is history. We just celebrated March 5th, the 35th anniversary of the 00:46:00Selma/Montgomery march, and Lewis, even though our staff was in charge of everything, John Wilkes went down there to join us, and he and Hosea decided to march that Sunday, even though Martin had told them not to march, but they did anyway, and the rest is history.
HUNTLEY: Now back from 1960 to 1963 there were a number of things that tookplace. Of course, the organization of SNCC, the freedom ride took place in 1961, in Birmingham in 1962 there was a selective buying campaign, and in Albany, Georgia, took place in 1962. Birmingham then would come along in '63. Why did you leave Mobile?
LOWERY: I left Mobile in '61 and went to Nashville.00:47:00
LOWERY: I will never forget the Mobile paper had a little headline, localagitator leaves town, and one of the members of my church came by that morning, she was upset about it. She said, "I knew you were going to be upset, but I want you to drive me home." I drove her home and she carried me down a long hall and in back of the house was a brand-new washing machine. She said, "you see that little red thing, that is an agitator, and without it ain't nothing going to happen."
HUNTLEY: She said that was an agitator.
LOWERY: She said, "don't be upset." She took me on back home. HUNTLEY: A compliment.
LOWERY: She opened my eyes and taught me a good lesson in theology right therein her front door. But that was 11/61. I went to Nashville and got involved in the Nashville Movement. I was a part of the Nashville movement that desegregated 00:48:00public facilities in Nashville prior to the 1964 act. I remember we were sitting in and some of the Morrisons, Brittlings, and some of the other cafeterias, and two things happened. One fellow from the FOR, his name will come to me in a minute, joined us in the picket line, but we had been picking down there all day, and the thugs had been rolling eyes, but they hadn't done anything. The minute the white guy got in the line, they knocked him down. They couldn't stand for a white fella to be in there. But I remember sitting in the governor's office, Governor of Tennessee, because Morrisons wouldn't desegregate. They wouldn't open to nobody, no matter what happen. They would not desegregate, and I went to the governor and said you can call the man who own it , he was in 00:49:00Mobile, and he did. He called him on the phone. He said you are causing disruption in our community. We want it over. We got everything else over except Morrison.
And he told the governor, no, over his dead body, he wasn't going to do it.Interestingly enough, the Act passed in the middle of the year in 1964. He died. Over his dead body?
HUNTLEY: In 1963 where were you?
LOWERY: Well, I was in Nashville. I was administrative assistant to the bishop,and I couldn't spend as much time in Birmingham as I wanted to because I had these administrative responsibilities to North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama. And I would come in to join them, I had to go back. I 00:50:00wanted to be more involved, I just couldn't leave my responsibilities. I didn't have the freedom of a pastor. I wasn't pastoring. If I had been pastoring as I was in Mobile, I would have had much more freedom. As God would have it I came to Birmingham to pastor in 1964 across the street at St. Paul United Methodist Church. Now while I was in Nashville, that bombing took place in Birmingham.
HUNTLEY: Sixteenth Street?
LOWERY: Yes. That was in '63. We were meeting in --before that, there was abombing at A.G. Gaston [Motel].
LOWERY: We were there that night planning. I was living in Nashville. Martin and00:51:00all of us were in room 30. That was the biggest room they had. The next day on a Sunday I was to go to Athens, down from Nashville to do a commencement. I was late. I was going to catch the Pan America and go to Nashville and drive my family down. But that evening later on Martin said, "Joe I am going to Atlanta, why not stay here? You are as close to Athens here as you are in Nashville aren't you?" I said, yes. Why don't you stay here? The room is paid for, so don't go. I said, okay I guess I will. So, they left and I stayed I got ready to go to bed, I said I told my wife I was going to drive her down there with me. I am going. I got up and went to Nashville, got up and drove there. And they bombed room 30, and the big hole was right by the bed where I would have been 00:52:00sleeping. So, God had something he was saving me for. But then I moved to Birmingham in 1964. Fred had gone to Cincinnati, and I became president of the Ministerial Alliance here.
All the meetings about Selma took place in my church and in A.G. Gaston. Ibecame a real part of it. But of course, the amazing thing had already been consummated, but there I became a part Birmingham movement. We had some demonstrations against the Liberty Supermarket. We had a big one. The boycott was 99.9% effective. Fred came down that night and we had a mass meeting out in Davis' Church, St. Paul A.M.E. Fred decided we were going to march that night, and I tried to get to him. I couldn't before he announced, but when I got there 00:53:00he had already announced it, we were going on to the street. Well it was too late then. I said, Fred, this is totally unnecessary. We are taking too big a risk. I knew that we were halfway down there then, and that was the night when the fella shook the car and the fella got shot, and sued us, and cost us $90,000 bucks. But I left Birmingham in '68, and went to Atlanta. I was vice-president of SCLC then, and I was organizing up until '67. At the convention in Atlanta, Martin asked me if I would serve as chairman of the board. We didn't have a chairman of the board. They asked me if I would be chairman of the board, and I agreed to do that. So, I could preside at the meetings, and take some of the weight off of his shoulders and I did that, but he always wanted me to come to Atlanta, and I said, no my place is here. The Birmingham News had just had an 00:54:00editorial about blacks will be elected to public office and other blacks will qualify, and they named a bunch of names and mine was one of them. I said, well maybe it's time for me to leave Birmingham. They decided that I am qualified--
HUNTLEY: And the job is done, huh?
LOWERY: Yeah, of course I must be doing something wrong because they werepleased with me. But I went on to Atlanta and I was chairman of the board then. Roger had tried to get me to come to Atlanta in the early sixties on up to run SCLC, and I didn't go, and he died in April. I went in June. I hate that he didn't live to see me come back to Atlanta. But even then I didn't have any intention of running SCLC. Ralph was president. Even when they come to the 00:55:00office, I had an office and I would work with the fiscal responsibilities. He ran the program, and of course in 1977 Ralph decided to run for congress and resigned in February. The board elected me acting president. I was already chairman of the board, so I stayed there. I went with Carter after he got elected. Ralph ran for congress and lost, but by the time the convention came, the group had decided that I should stay as president and Ralph and I had several private discussions, and we persuaded Ralph that he would accept President Emeritus. I said you will have an office down there, and Walter 00:56:00Fauntroy would be chairman of the board. Ralph wanted to be chairman of the board if he couldn't be the president. We had already talked to Walter and so Ralph took President Emeritus and that's what happen. Hosea ran against me for president, but he was soundly defeated, and we are good friends, but that's how I became president. I had no intention of becoming president. A Baptist pastor was more adaptive. He could be president with much more facility because he was rooted in the community, stayed longer, wasn't accountable to a bureaucracy, and administrative structure, and sometimes white, as well as black. But I took it and held it longer than Martin and Ralph together, better than 21 years almost. February 1977 to January of 1998. I had some problem with the hierarchy of my 00:57:00church, but made it through, as a matter of fact, I met an interesting person, Bishop William Cannon, white. He was dean of Catholic School of Theology at Emory. He was my bishop. Before he was elected bishop he was the official apologist for segregation in the church. When I went somebody questioned the theology or doctrine, or the efficacy of segregation in the Christian community, they would call on Cannon to give a biblical, theological, doctrinal defense, and he became bishop. He was a bishop when I was about to be elected. I decided I would go to him and tell him what was about to happen, and he said, "no, no, 00:58:00you can't leave central." I said, wait a minute I don't leave central. I said remember Martin pastured at Ebenezer. I said I don't have to be at central, I will just be the spokesman. I lied a little bit. I said I will just be spokesman. The staff will do most of the work, and so forth. He said, "oh, well that's different. Yes, that will be great." He said as a Methodist preacher, you will be named as successor to Martin Luther King. That brings great honor to the church, and he gave the blessing and wrote an editorial in the church paper, the Christian Advocate, saying what I just related to you. It was a very, very startling and almost miraculous thing that happened then. He wished me well, and I stayed there 21 years.
HUNTLEY: Did he change any after he saw how active you were?
LOWERY: No, it was too late then. Every position that I took of the position,00:59:00was in harmony with the position of the church, you know. And that was the power of our movement. Some called us communist, but that was a compliment to communism that they didn't deserve. Our principals, our methodology, our protest, our philosophy was Christian, Democratic; and then to give communism credit was blasphemy. So, a sincere churchman could not challenge our position. We stood on the grounds that God was made of one blood, and that God did not believe in oppression of his people, and that God was identified all through the Old Testament on the side of the oppressed. And that the Moses and Amos and 01:00:00Joshua and others throughout history were Christian statesmen and prophets. And we were in that endless line of splendor. And the church could not argue with that.
HUNTLEY: They say the same thing about the labor movement as well, it wascommunist. But how did the labor movement and the civil rights movement interact?
LOWERY: One of the reasons I was so honored to get the Walter Reuther award lastDecember in Detroit from Wayne University and UAW, was that Walter Luther was probably the most prophetic labor leader, and the most activist in terms of civil rights, that we ever had in this country. And he marched with us. I have a picture at home, him marching with us in Charleston in 69 when we were fighting 01:01:00for the hospital workers. He and Martin were friends. The numeral progressive elements of the labor movement, particularly CIO joined with us in many instances because they recognized we were fighting for human rights, workers' rights, poor peoples' rights and that was in sync with what Reuther stood for.
Now there were conservative labor folks like everything else who didn't takethat position, but we had a good coalescence with the labor movement and until this day. When I retired there were Bill Lucy, who heads the black coalition of Trade Union who's on my board. Joe Davis headed UAW civil rights leader on my board, Clayola Brown with the Now Unite. Knight was on my board, we had a good 01:02:00relationship. When Walter Reuther passed we had a good relationship with everyone who succeeded him at UAW. So its been a good--. not that we didn't have problems with Luther, and you have to understand that when I took positions against the labor movement, and I still do for that matter, but because I think there are pockets where they are still insensitive and discriminating. I think that John Swooney elected to secede, will get his name later, is much more sensitive than his predecessor. So it has gotten better.
HUNTLEY: The book that, the controversy, the book that Reverend Abernathy wrote,01:03:00and that was during the time you were in the fore front. How did that play?
LOWERY: Sad, it was a very sad chapter in the history of the movement. Ralph wasprobably closer to Martin that any of us, they were in Montgomery together. Ralph played a very important role in Martin's leadership capacity. Alabama State this past year just established the civil rights series in Ralph's honor. I gave the first lecture and I commended them for taking that step. Ralph was not only an advocate for civil rights and justice, he also was an advocate for 01:04:00Martin's leadership. He had more seniority in Montgomery than Martin did, he would stand up to some of the old timers when Martin couldn't. It's always good to have somebody else fight your battles, coming to your defense. Because who was that said, "that he who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client." But Ralph played a very important role. And Ralph worked hard as President. The book remains enigmatic and it remains a mystery. There are those that think Ralph had a very serious operation, you know. A doctor in Montgomery, whose father was President of Montgomery for a long time, who's brother is an attorney here in 01:05:00Montgomery now, did the surgery, and it was a very delicate and very serious surgery. They are the ones who think that maybe Ralph had moments when he didn't recall to clearly, and others think that the publisher who provided a writer to work with Ralph, influenced Ralph to include something sensational to be a catalyst for sales of the book. There are theories and other rumors of Ralph's immediate family may have contributed something, we don't know. Except, we do know that Bernard Lee was there, who has now passed himself, all the time. And Bernard vigorously denied Ralph's recollection of the last evening. But it was 01:06:00sad because it put in peril the record that Ralph had made, all his achievements, all his contributions were imperiled by this dangerous voyage into scandalizing his friends name.
HUNTLEY: Speaking on that, you were very much involved when the FBI, J. EdgarHoover, sent this material to King.
LOWERY: I was pastor here then, at St. Paul. And living out on, I forgot thename of the street, the freeway was going right through where our house was, I believe it was on 10th street, I forgot. But anyway, Martin called me, and he said, "can you get over here in the morning." I said, "what you got?" He said, 01:07:00"you got to get over here in the morning." So, we went over there, the next day, and here to meet Andy, Ralph, myself, Martin, I don't remember who else, but he told us about the tape, he played the tape, Coretta had already heard it, the tape was not clear. It was either two things, either the technology that they used record the conversation at the Wyndam Hotel, was not sufficient to get a clear picture, clear recording, a clear sound. Or we think they may have delivered it muffled, parts of it, because some of it we don't believe were our voices. I was in the room, and some of it, it sounds like they may have had 01:08:00somebody impersonating some of us to say some nasty things, because nobody from there recalls anybody saying that. But at any rate, the note that came with it said that Martin said he should take his own life, or they were going to expose this tape. And we all decided, you know you not going to take your own life, number two its fabrication, that may have been part of the conversation was authentic. Whenever you get that many preachers in a room and they are going to tell lies about their sermons and all that stuff. But that was what that was, and we sent a message back to the FBI. A fellow named Sullivan was an important figure for the FBI, and we believed that it was taped by and distributed by the 01:09:00FBI. Coretta didn't believe it, and none of us really believed it. I came back and told my wife what was said. It pretended to be an orgy, and later on a black writer, Collin, also used that book to say some nasty things about Martin and Ralph. But it was 90% fabrication. I am not saying that we were saints. I am not saying Martin was a saint. The only one I would have been called a saint was John Lewis. Time Magazine called him a saint, but I am not a saint. Martin is no saint. But Martin was not as promiscuous as Ralph's book and other charges that 01:10:00were indicated. That simply is not true.
HUNTLEY: Let me ask you a question about the women in the movement, the wives ofthe leaders. I know that there probably were times when you had to go someplace and your wife may say, well you know-- How did you handle that relationship, keep that relationship together and be successful?
LOWERY: The most difficult time was in Mobile when the children were small and Ihad to go away. She had to stay through the telephone calls around the clock and the threats of bombing. Let me tell you something else. When I first moved to Mobile in 1952, and the house was next to the church and there was a restaurant 01:11:00right across the street called Big Mamas, and Big Mamas was Big Mamas. Big Mama had a jukebox that played all night long. We slept upstairs and the sound came right out of Big Mamas right across the street up into our bedrooms. We had a tough time, we came from Alexander City when we lived in a quiet community, and there was not a juke box within a mile or two miles of our house, and that contrast required a very difficult adjustment. I used to go and talk with Big Mama, and say, is there any way we could tone down the music a little bit, and she did. But it had no other competing sound, even to tone down the juke box, the sound traveled, oh, it traveled. But then when things broke and there was a 01:12:00green truck and a red truck that the Klan traveled around in. The word was out they were going to bomb my house, and they never did. And the reason they never did, was that they couldn't find a time when somebody was not hanging around Big Mamas that could see them. At first it was an intrusive noise that became a comforting lullaby coming across from Big Mamas. That was very interesting. The Klan was active in Mobile, no question. 01:13:00
HUNTLEY: I am sure that, this goes without saying that there was strength whereyour wife was concerned to keep the family together.
LOWERY: They were strong women. Fortunately, all of us had strong wives. I hatedfor her to be alone, but then the church would take turns here in Birmingham, particularly following the '65 march when Martin named me to carry the demands of the march to Wallace. And he named me at the end of the speech to chair the group, A.G. Gaston, Billingsley, the president of Tuskegee and so forth. The troopers were guarding the steps of the capital. But the National Guard had been penalized. There was a general there in charge and we would take the demands up 01:14:00to the door of the capital. I went to the general and I said, what is going to happen here? He said, "I cleared it. I talked with him and they are going to let you come up and bring them to the governor." So, I carried my folks on up the steps. But when we got to the top of the steps the troopers closed in and would not let us pass. They formed a blue sea. We had already had the red sea and Joseph Myer had the blue sea. So I looked back at the general, as if to say, thought you said--and the general saw what was happening, and he stepped off the back of his truck where he was watching everything and yelled some commands, which I didn't understand, but the National Guard did. They marched over and confronted the troopers and swarmed the bayonets around like that, and the blue 01:15:00sea, like the red sea opened up, and we marched through on dry steps and carried the petition to the capital. The governor's secretary came. We wanted to see the governor. The secretary said give me the demands. Oh no, we don't march 50 miles from Selma to Montgomery to give demands to a secretary, and if the governor won't receive us, we will not submit the demands. So we didn't get to meet that today. We came on back home. That's when the threats were terrible over here in Birmingham with me because I had chaired the committee, and the governor had refused to see me. The Klan had killed Viola Liuzzo that night and so officers of the church would take turns watching the church and the parsonage. Because we didn't want to have get away on Sunday and have to evacuate, so we watched the 01:16:00church around the clock so that they would know that we were clear. As you know, they didn't bomb the house, they didn't bomb us, and we did --but the women were wonderful. Later we did meet with the governor. The United Methodist Bishop here in Alabama persuaded Wallace who was a Methodist, to meet with us. So, then the governor's secretary called me and said the governor has said he would meet with a part of the group. I said, oh! Out of curiosity I asked him what part? He said he would meet with A.G. Gaston, he will meet with the president of Tuskegee. He will meet with Tonya so and so, Fred Gray, who was from down at Wallace's home. I said, well I'll tell you what, as far as I am concerned the governor cannot 01:17:00tell us who represents us. I will poll the group and get back to you. So, I did, I polled the group, and to a man they said no, either we all go or none of us should go. So, I dutifully called the little governor's office and said that word is that it is all or nothing or all. He said, "well I will call you back." So, he called me back, I guess, I don't know whether it was next day or later that day, but anyway he said the governor will meet with you. We had a 90- minute meeting with the governor during which time I challenged him as a Methodist pastor to a Methodist layman, and said God was going to hold him accountable for what he was doing. I told him, you have a forum from which you 01:18:00can speak that the thugs don't have, and they want to identify with you. So why you are raving and ranting, about your interposition and so forth, they are shooting Viola Liuzzo. They cracked the skull of Jonathan Daniels and so forth, James Reed, and that was a historic meeting with the governor. He called me to his bedside when I was in Montgomery not long before he died to pray for him. We had established a relationship that-- in fact he came to me in '95 where we conducted when we conducted the 30th anniversary of re-enactment of the Selma march. He came to meet me, and the marchers was out at St. Jude and apologized on the front page was of almost every paper in the country, apologized for his deeds in '65. 01:19:00
HUNTLEY: In '95?
LOWERY: In '95. He was sick in a wheelchair, couldn't hardly talk above awhisper. As matter of fact in '85 the rascal was back in the governor's house on the 20th anniversary, and we went by to see him, he was in his office, but he was in pain. We prayed with him there, and he gave us a kind of an apology, but not like the one he gave in '95. When we got word, we were coming into Montgomery the night before, we got word that Wallace wanted to meet us. Some of my people didn't want it to happen.
LOWERY: No. And I decided that as he stood in the schoolhouse door hinderingeducation for young people, I was not going to stand in the door of his repentance. Because he had nothing to gain from coming out there, no way he 01:20:00could gain politically. He was in a wheelchair, could hardly talk above a whisper. And I guess that was his means of making sure he had to let God know and the public know that he had repented. So, I wasn't about to --.as a matter of fact I used a little article from the New York Times. I said that was a message Wallace was sending to the demagogues of the day that you see where the roads of hate lead, and they have a chance to repent now as Wallace did much later.
HUNTLEY: Reverend Lowery, you have had a tremendous career in life, but youobviously have not finished.
LOWERY: I'm retired. What do you mean? I have been retired two years now. Nobody01:21:00believes me. A group in Atlanta, Georgia, came to me and asked me if I would convene a coalition of representatives of various groups called the People's Agenda, which I did. They seemed to think I could be successful in pulling more of a leadership together because I guess I had the black leadership forum nationally which includes all the groups. I am trying to retire from that. But, we are working to improve the quality of governance in Georgia. The farmers came to me, Chestnut and the black farmers around the country and said, will you help us with this suit we got. So, I pulled part of the civil rights community and the business community together to support the farmers, and the judge even let me speak to his court in a hearing they had, in which I appreciated very much. I 01:22:00had been in court, but they never let me address the court. We won the suit. The farmers won the suit. There is still a battle because I think they are rejecting too many applications, so we still got to fight. But the victory was marvelous. It was the closest thing--it's the only thing for that matter that has happened to black folks that even smell like reparation. We think when the settlements are over and completed, that somewhere between one and two billion dollars would have gone from the Department of Agriculture into the hands of black farmers and their heirs in this country. So that got me out of retirement. Then the next I knew a group of automobile dealers, former automobile dealers, I won't call the name of the automobile, but they were bankrupt. They had been abused and neglected by the manufacturer. They didn't keep the promises they made to give 01:23:00them this and give them that and help them. And all of them went bankrupt. When a fella down in Tuskegee had lost his home, his wife's home, another one in North Carolina, his wife's mother's property, and they and asked me if I would help them. I said only on one condition that you let me give the leadership, let me decide if and when we go public, if we can work it out and we negotiate across the table, let's do it that way. They said whatever you want, we have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. We working, about seven or eight of them. I went to the head of General Motors, (gosh, can you take that out). But we went ahead to you know, and they were, not just General Motors, Ford done the same thing. I give General Motors credit that when I went to their leadership 01:24:00and explained what was going on, they worked with me, and for a year and a half we have been fighting that battle. Not a single press conference, but we have gotten settlements for six or seven former dealers, two in Alabama, North Carolina who otherwise may have been left penniless. I am very proud of that. It was a hard fight, but like Joe Lewis, I glad I win. So, they have kept me pretty busy. Then the black promoters came, and they say, will you help us? Did you know that no white artist has ever given a concert promoted by a black promoter? 01:25:00No major white artist. And when the black artist get major, the booking agent take them away from the black promoters. So, we are fighting that battle. We have a lawsuit filed now against Creative Artists and William Morris Agency and big booking talent in California that have control of everything. So, I have been--plus I am trying to write my book, and I would like a little more time if you could help me, I would appreciate it. But, I guess you're right, I had a tremendously enriching career, and I had planned to title my book, but my opinion is I wouldn't take nothing from the journey and I wouldn't, so I don't' know what I am going to call my book, but the Lord has blessed me so much. He let me live long enough to see some things come to pass, and that we would never 01:26:00have believed would come to pass. On March 5th last month we saw the President of the United States come to the Selma, Alabama.
HUNTLEY: That's right.
LOWERY: In 1965 the president had to send troops to protect us. In 2000 he cameto direct us. He led the march. In 1965 the governor of Alabama sent troopers to beat us. In 2000 he came to greet us. And the troopers to salute us as we crossed that bridge. I am pretty sure that Martin saw that. If he didn't I certainly will tell him about it when I see him. That was a marvelous thing, and should demonstrate to those who are tending to sink into pits of lethargy about 01:27:00voting, the power of the ballot, you know Clinton would never have come down there, he wouldn't even be president. Nor would have Jimmy Carter without the ballot, that was made possible by that Selma to Montgomery voting rights campaign. I hope they would see that. I could name so many things that have come to pass. The president called my name a couple of times in his speech. I spoke to the group as I did earlier, but this little old small-town, textile mill, colored boy from the North of Alabama has come a long, long way from that punch in the belly until this day, and I am grateful. I don't care what my call is, I am going to take that bit of a journey. I wouldn't take nothing for it. God has 01:28:00blessed me and maybe it isn't completely over, maybe you know, God got some use for me. I hope he lets me write this book. I am 78, and still breathing well enough to get a good night's rest.
HUNTLEY: That's a blessing.
LOWERY: I am very grateful, but the movement has been a tremendous spiritualexperience. I almost didn't make it. I almost died in '79 about 24 miles from where I was born in Decatur, Alabama, when the Klan shot me, four young people in the head when I was leading a march on behalf of Tommy Lee Hines, a young retarded man who was accused of raping, he couldn't even ride a bicycle, and they said he drove a car in the process of the rape. We saved his life and God spared me. I don't know who was shooting, but I heard the bullets, too close, 01:29:00but God spared me, and I thank God for the richness of my experience. I wouldn't' take nothing for it.
HUNTLEY: I just want to say, you know that I really, not just myself, buteveryone just really appreciate you, not just as a civil rights leader because you are honestly that, you are a giant among giants, but your person is what is so important you don't meet strangers and you are genuine in talking about it.
LOWERY: Well, thank you. I love people. My daughter works over at University ofAlabama I was over there today, and when I drove up and she told the people where she was going, the whole place came out with her, and much to my regret because I was hungry. I was trying to get to, what is it, Jabo's? 01:30:00
LOWERY: But I enjoyed meeting them, I love people and my work has been--I neverseparated my ministry, never fragmented it, and was a holistic minister. I never separated my pastoral duties. They not only included ministering to my flock but trying to spread the balm and giving it to the whole world. I enjoyed doing that. I think it is the preacher in me. When I am marching, I am preaching. I thank God he has empowered me to do it for a long, long time.
HUNTLEY: We certainly appreciate you Reverend Dr. Lowery.
LOWERY: Joseph or Joe, as long as you call me, I don't care what you call me.01:31:00
HUNTLEY: That's right. Thank you so much.
LOWERY: You are quite welcome.