ATLANTA—The family of late civil rights icons Joseph and Evelyn Lowery have gifted a priceless collection of official and personal papers, photographs, documents, writings, speeches, notes, travel diaries, and other mementos to Morehouse College. The Joseph Echols Lowery and Evelyn Gibson Lowery Collection includes over 400 linear feet of invaluable materials chronicling the Lowerys' work with civil and human rights leaders.
The collection will be archived and curated at the Atlanta University Center (AUC) Robert W. Woodruff Library and used to provide scholars, researchers, students, and the general public with an authentic understanding of the impact, sacrifice, and legacy of these civil rights pioneers. Clark Atlanta University— home of the Joseph and Evelyn Lowery Institute for Justice and Human Rights— will have exhibition rights. The Lowery Collection will expand and enhance the assemblage of civil rights historical treasures entrusted to Morehouse, such as papers and other items which belonged to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. '48 and are now part of the Morehouse College King Collection.
The collection was gifted in the spirit of collaboration and scholarship within the AUC and accessibility for all AUC institutions was the key determinant in the Lowery family's donation decision. As a founder of the Black Leadership Forum and the People's Agenda, Dr. Joseph Lowery consistently demonstrated his faith in the power of collaboration. In addition to its physical accessibility, the collection will be digitized to provide broader, online viewing access in the coming months.
"My father operated in the spirit that 'the world was his parish,'" said Cheryl Lowery, president and CEO of the Joseph and Evelyn Lowery Institute for Justice and Human Rights. "His words and works knew no walls and extended beyond the pulpit into 'the streets and the suites.' In that spirit, it is fitting that the Joseph Echols Lowery and Evelyn Gibson Lowery Collection will be owned by, housed on, and fully accessible to the Atlanta University Center Schools, which they loved and by which they were loved. I am also forever grateful to have secured an incredible anonymous donor who is financing the digitization of the work, particularly as we approach the Lowery Institute's 20th anniversary on what would have been my father's 100th birthday. It's amazing."
Morehouse is historically recognized for its pivotal roles in producing human rights leaders, convening thought leadership on equity issues, and generating research and scholarship in social justice. The gift underscores the institution's historic role at the center of the civil and human rights movements in the United States and its legacy of educating students and the world in the philosophy and practice of nonviolent social change.
"No discussion about civil rights in America will ever be complete without referencing the contributions of Joseph and Evelyn Lowery," said David A. Thomas, Ph.D., Morehouse College president. "We are eager to work with Clark Atlanta University, where the Lowery Institute is housed, and other AUC institutions to ensure that the Lowerys' transformative work is not only remembered, but also used to inspire, educate, and empower future generations of change agents."
Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, called the "dean of the civil rights movement," helped create the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and served as founding vice president alongside founding president Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He later served as SCLC chairman and as president and CEO. During the historic Selma to Montgomery March for voting rights in Alabama, which commenced with the violent beating of nonviolent marchers on what came to be known as "Bloody Sunday," Lowery led the delegation delivering a list of demands to segregationist former Alabama Governor George Wallace. His peaceful activism for justice resulted in numerous arrests and having his property seized by the state of Alabama in a historic libel suit, which resulted in a vindication by the U.S. Supreme Court and a precedent protecting the free speech rights of the press and citizen advocates.
Evelyn Gibson Lowery was a civil rights pioneer and change agent. She established SCLC/ W.O.M.E.N (Women's Organizational Movement for Equality Now, Inc.), which instituted programs on global issues including HIV/AIDS, computer and GED education for women, mentoring for girls, and civil rights history. She created 13 monuments honoring civil rights heroes while also creating a civil rights heritage tour. She graduated from Clark College, now Clark Atlanta University.
"Clark Atlanta University has always been at the forefront of the civil rights movement and a part of its history," said George T. French Jr., Ph.D., president of Clark Atlanta University. "We are excited to partner in this historic initiative and have exhibition rights to the Joseph Echols Lowery and Evelyn Gibson Lowery Collection. This historic collection will serve as invaluable resources for our scholars during their matriculation at CAU."
The AUC Woodruff Library will dedicate the next several months to providing expert care, detailed inventory and preservation, and to ensuring broad accessibility— both physically and digitally. The Lowery Collection expands the body of primary-sourced materials available for teaching, learning and research in the Atlanta University Center and to scholars around the globe.
"We are complimented to be asked to care for this collection and to preserve and make available for learning and research further evidences of the civil rights period and the involvement of the Lowery family," said Loretta Parham, CEO and library director, AUC Woodruff Library.
Named by Ebony Magazine as one of the "15 Greatest Black Preachers," Rev. Dr. Lowery's work is wide-ranging and global in scale, including the leading the desegregation of schools in Nashville, Tennessee, organizing peace delegations in Lebanon and Central American nations, and pushing for boycotts against companies doing business with apartheid-era South Africa. He convened the Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda to demand election reform and economic justice, helped secure millions of dollars in contracts for minority businesses in the South, and advocated for the rights of farmers who had been discriminated against by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Among scores of other honors, Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University presented him with honorary doctorates and former President Barack Obama presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.
Programming and opportunities to engage with the collection will be forthcoming over the next few months.
Jasmine Gurley, Morehouse College
Carolyn Hart, AUC Robert W. Woodruff Library