Rev. Joseph E. Lowery Interviewed on April 11, 2000

BCRI Oral History Collection
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00:00:00 - Introduction and Family History

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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.)

GPS: The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
Map Coordinates: 33.516200, -86.813870
00:07:32 - Growing Up in Huntsville

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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.

Keywords: KKK

Subjects: African American life; Huntsville (Ala.); Racism--United States

00:19:22 - Education and Becoming a Minister

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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

00:30:16 - Early Involvement in the Civil Rights Movement and the Bus Boycotts

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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

00:37:46 - The Outlawing of the NAACP and the New York Times v. Sullivan

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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

00:41:23 - The Southern Christian Leadership Conference

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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

00:46:26 - The Nashville Movement and the Birmingham Movement

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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.)

00:53:30 - Move to Atlanta and Presidency of SCLC

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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

01:02:54 - The Abernathy Book and the FBI Tapes

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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

01:10:09 - Women of the Movement and Giving Demands to Gov. Wallace

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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

01:20:40 - "Retirement" and Conclusion

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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.)