Civil rights icon under fire over racial remarks

by: Craig Lucie Updated:

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ATLANTA —

Civil rights icon, the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, says controversial comments attributed to him in a newspaper article were taken out of context, but the author says that’s not the case.

When Lowery held a news conference at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Headquarters on Friday, which he founded with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he joked about the incident. He said he tells the joke all the time, especially when there’s an interracial crowd.

The controversy stems from a speech Lowery gave at a Forsyth church and comments he made about white people. A woman who wrote an article about it for a Monroe County newspaper said she was the only white person there, and she felt uncomfortable.

“It’s the first time in 50 years. I’ve used (the joke) 100 times for mixed audiences,” Lowery said.

Lowery said the writer, Diane Glidewell, of the Monroe County Reporter, got it all wrong.

“I’ve never had any reporter misconstrue or use a story, first time in history,” said Lowery.

On the phone, Glidewell told Channel 2’s Craig Lucie she reported the event and his words as the event unfolded at the St. James Baptist Church.

She said Lowery was serious when he said, “America is going to hell in a hand basket. We need to straighten up so God can use us."

Glidewell went on to write in her article that he said, “When he was a young militant, he used to say all white folks were going to hell. Then, he mellowed and just said most of them were. Now, he said, he is back to where he was.”

Glidewell told Lucie she felt uncomfortable.

“I honestly felt like he really felt that way and that disturbed me a lot. The people on either side of me made a point to tell me they didn’t feel that way after. They didn’t apologize for him. They told me that those were not their feelings,” said Glidewell.

Lowery said he recently told the same joke in front of Atlanta City Hall before a racially mixed crowd.

“I’m too busy to stay out of hell myself to try and send somebody else there,” joked Lowery.

Lowery said his joke has become political and that’s why he had to hold a news conference.

“I wasn’t going to let them run with it and try and hurt Obama with it through me,” explained Lowery.

Glidewell told Lucie her article was not an attack by any means and she wrote down his entire speech and nothing was taken out of context. She thinks Lowery didn’t realize there were any whites in the audience.

“I think that’s why he felt comfortable making that remark. I think he probably thought it was not interracial at all. It related to what he said before and what he said after,” said Glidewell.