Civil rights icon Rev. Joseph Lowery laid to rest in private funeral in Atlanta

Civil rights icon Rev. Joseph Lowery buried in private Atlanta funeral

ATLANTA — Family members of Atlanta civil rights icon the Rev. Joseph Lowery gathered for a private funeral Saturday.

Lowery worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr. and helped him found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He died March 27 at age 98 in Atlanta. His family said he died of natural causes that weren’t related to the coronavirus.

The service fell on the 52nd anniversary of King's assassination on April 4, 1968.

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A horse-drawn carriage carried Lowery’s casket to Westview Cemetery in Atlanta, where about 10 family members and three attendants participated in a graveside service. Pallbearers in top hats carried Lowery’s casket to the burial site.

More specific details on the service were not released.

Before the funeral service, the procession made stops at two churches where Lowery served as a pastor as well as the nonprofit Joseph and Evelyn Lowery Institute for Justice and Human Rights that he founded in 2001.

Lowery was from Alabama and was a pastor there before moving to Atlanta. For 14 years, Lowery served as pastor of Atlanta’s Cascade United Methodist Church. He retired in 1990, and in 1998, he stepped down as president of the SCLC.

“It’s been a great journey. This whole experience... I wouldn’t take nothing from my journey now. But I think it’s time now ... and I’m not leading a movement, to make that clear. I could intend to raise hell,” Lowery said.

After leaving the SCLC, he formed the Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda, an umbrella organization of civil and human rights groups in the state.

There he led charges to change the Georgia flag, to urge President George W. Bush to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act and for the state to reject a controversial voter ID bill.

In 2006, he was once again in the spotlight for the political comments he made at the funeral of his dead friend, Coretta Scott King.

“We know now that there were no weapons of mass destruction over there. But Coretta knew, and we knew, that there are weapons of misdirection right down here,” Lowery said. “Millions without health insurance, poverty abounds. For war, billions more, but no more for the poor.”

Lowery gave the benediction at Obama's first inauguration in 2009. Later that year, Obama awarded Lowery the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

A public memorial service is planned for Oct. 6, which would have been Lowery’s 99th birthday.

Last month, Channel 2′s Tyisha Fernandes spoke to former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, who was the director of the SCLC for nearly 30 years before becoming Atlanta’s mayor.

Young called Lowery a visionary leader and also one of the funniest people he knew.

“Whenever we got together, we spent a hundred more times laughing than we did crying,” Young said. “We were very seldom sad, even though there were many sad and tragic occasions. But by in large, we were filled with the spirit of brotherhood and love and wanting to make the world a better place.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The casket of The Rev. Joseph E. Lowery departs Cascade United Methodist church by horse and carriage, Saturday, April 4, 2020, in Atlanta. For more than four decades after the death of his friend and civil rights icon, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the fiery Alabama preacher was on the front line of the battle for equality, with an unforgettable delivery that rivaled King's — and was often more unpredictable. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
The casket of The Rev. Joseph E. Lowery departs Cascade United Methodist church by horse and carriage, Saturday, April 4, 2020, in Atlanta. For more than four decades after the death of his friend and civil rights icon, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the fiery Alabama preacher was on the front line of the battle for equality, with an unforgettable delivery that rivaled King's — and was often more unpredictable. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) (Brynn Anderson)


Civil Rights Icon Rev. Joseph Lowery dies at age 98