Hundreds gathered at the King Chapel on the campus of Morehouse College Wednesday to pay their last respects to Evelyn Lowery, a pioneer in civil rights and women’s empowerment and the wife of the Rev. Joseph Lowery.
She died at home on Sept. 26 following a massive stroke a week earlier that left her with irreversible damage. She was 88 yers old.
A series of tributes filled the two-hour service that drew tears and laughter from those gathered. She was praised for her work as a leader in her own right as well as being a rock to her husband, who has been called the “dean” of the civil right movement.
Xernona Clayton said she teased Mrs. Lowery about waiting on her husband hand and foot. They were married for 67 years. She said they ewre devoted to each other. In addition he established her own initiatives, including founding SCLC/WOMEN in 1979.
Scarlet Pressley-Brown, interim-chair of SCLC/WOMEN, called her the mother of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, scheduled to open next year.
In addition to SCLC/WOMEN, Mrs. Lowery founded the Drum Major for Justice awards to recognize people and organizations working for social justice. She also established the annual Heritage Trail tours in Alabama to retrace the steps of civil rights battles and to dedicate monuments to those who gave their lives in the struggle.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, head of the National Action Network and host of Politics Nation on MSNBC, said “her work speaks for itself.”
He added, “She stood shoulder to shoulder with one of the greatest civil rights leaders the world has ever known.”
In addition to words of tribute calling her a “foot soldier” filled with “love, courage, grace, class, dignity dedication and commitment,” the service included music that brought people to their feet, especially a performance by the three Lowery daughters, Cheryl, Yvonne and Karen. They sang “Total Praise.” Jennifer Holliday of Broadway fame, stirred the crowd with “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” and Cassandra Davis, of Tyler Perry’s House of Payne, performed “God is Real,” repeating the ending at Rev. Lowery’s request.
Other tributes came from letters from President and Mrs. Obama, President Clinton and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Others brining tributes were Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Dr. Carlton Brown, president of Clark Atlanta University, where Mrs. Lowery graduated in 1946.
Also, Christine King Farris, sister of Martin Luther King Jr., Carolyn Young, wife of Andy Young, who worked alongside King, Lowery and others, Ruby Shinholster, and Thandi Luthuli Gcabashe, who met Mrs. Lowery when she lived in Atlanta in exhile for several years during the fight against apartheid in South Africa.
Bishop Woodie W. White, board chair of the Joseph E. Lowery Institute for Justice & Human Rightst at CAU, concluded the service by saying Mrs Lowery is “not leaving, but goin….Going transcends leaving….She’s alrigh… and that’s the rest of the story.”