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The Joseph Echols and Evelyn Gibson Lowery Collection

Identifier: 0000-0000-0000-0199

Content Description

The Joseph Echols and Evelyn Gibson Lowery Collection, circa 1900-2019, 1950-2013 (bulk), consists of correspondence, personal papers, and writings of Joseph E. Lowery and Evelyn G. Lowery; Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) records; SCLC/Women’s Organizational Movement for Equality Now (SCLC/W.O.M.E.N.) records; subject and research files; printed and published material including SCLC Magazines and newspapers; memorabilia; photographs; and audio/video recordings.


  • Creation: circa 1900-2019
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1950 - 2013


Conditions Governing Use

All materials in this collection are either protected by copyright or are the property of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, Inc., and/or the copyright holder as appropriate. For more information, please contact

Biographical / Historical

Reverend Dr. Joseph Echols Lowery was a minister and civil rights activist who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as the Black Leadership Forum. After receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 NAACP convention, he became known as the "dean of the civil rights movement." He served in many leadership positions throughout his life and fought for civil rights and civic affairs through community organizations and political action, such as the Poor People’s Campaign, Voting Rights Act, and the 1964 Public Accommodations Act.

Joseph Echols Lowery, son of Leroy Lowery (1886-1956) and Dora Fackler Lowery (1889-1969), was born in Huntsville, Alabama in 1921. He attended Council Elementary school until fifth grade when his father sent him to St. Elizabeth Elementary School in Chicago where he resided with his father’s friends in the famous Rosenwald building. For ninth and tenth grade he attended Jean Baptiste DuSable High School but then moved back to Birmingham.

He graduated high school from Alabama Agricultrual and Mechanical College’s Council Training School in 1939. From there, he attended Knoxville College for two years until he decided to pursue ministry as a profession. After leaving Knoxville, he attended Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College again, but went on to graduate from Payne University in Birmingham, Alabama where he completed his seminary degree. In 1950, he earned his Doctor of Divinity from the Chicago Ecumenical Institute.

While in seminary, Dr. Lowery pastored his first church in western Birmingham, Alabama at St. James, frequently called “East Thomas Church,” starting in 1948. After spending one year in East Thomas, Lowery was promoted to a larger church in Alexander City, Alabama where he served as pastor for three years.

In 1952, Dr. Lowery moved to Mobile, Alabama where he pastored at Warren Street Church and was elected President of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance. He served in Mobile, Alabama for nine years, during which, he met Martin Luther King, Jr. at a Methodist seminar in Boston. In 1961, Dr. Lowery relocated from Mobile to Nashville, Tennessee and served as the President of the Interaction Council where he worked to desegregate public accommodations such as restaurants and hotels. In 1964, Dr. Lowery moved to Birmingham, Alabama where he was appointed pastor of St. Paul Church where his father-in-law, Henry Brown Gibson, Sr., had previously pastored.

In June of 1968, Dr. Lowery relocated to Atlanta, Georgia to pastor at Central United Methodist Church where he worked until 1986 when he left to pastor at Cascade United Methodist Church until 1992. After becoming acquainted with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1955, both pastors exchanged sermon notes and preached at each other’s congregations, furthering their friendship and collaboration in the Montgomery and Mobile Bus Boycotts in 1955.

Starting in 1956, Joseph Lowery, Martin Luther King, Jr., Fred Shuttlesworth, Ralph David Abernathy, and Charles Goode Gomillion met monthly in Montgomery, Alabama to discuss civil rights issues and strategies. This monthly meeting was the start of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which was then formally established in 1957 in New Orleans at the New Zion Baptist Church. Dr. Lowery was elected second vice president alongside C.K. Steele. While living in Birmingham, Dr. Lowery fought for public integration and then successfully helped pass the 1964 Public Accommodations Act. In 1965, during the Selma to Montgomery March, Joseph E. Lowery was named by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., chair of the march committee, and was appointed to take the demands of the march to Alabama Governor, George Wallace. In 1967, Dr. Lowery was elected Chairman of the Board of SCLC and became President in 1977.

In the late 1970’s, Lowery and the SCLC lobbied and demonstrated against Apartheid policies in South Africa and raised awareness for civil rights issues both domestically and abroad. In 1982, Lowery led the March to Washington, D.C. to strengthen the Voting Rights Act and extend it another 25 years. Dr. Lowery continued to pastor until 1992 when he retired from the church. He then retired from SCLC in 1998. He was an active CEO for the organization for 21 years. He was succeeded by Martin Luther King III. Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom on July 30, 2009.

While attending Knoxville College, Dr. Lowery married Agnes Christine Moore (1925-1974) and had two sons: Joseph Lowery II and Leroy Lowery III. They divorced shortly after.

Reverend Joseph Echols Lowery and Evelyn Francis Gibson married on September 25, 1947. The couple had 3 daughters, Yvonne L. Kennedy, Karen G. Lowery, and Cheryl Lowery.

Dr. Joseph Echols Lowery died on March 27, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Biographical / Historical

Mrs. Evelyn Gibson Lowery was born on February 16, 1925 in Wichita, Kansas. She was the founder and former chair of the fastest growing department of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, SCLC/W.O.M.E.N., Inc. created in 1979. Born to Rev. Dr. Harry Brown Gibson Sr. and Evelyn Gibson Sr., civil rights activists, she had a penchant for civil rights from the beginning. Her career had national and international impact in human and civil rights, which brought her to the forefront of the most important social issues of our time.

Lowery attended Booker T. Washington High School. In 1946, she studied Social Science and minored in Secondary Education and Secretarial Science at Clark College. While a student at Clark College Lowery participated in social and civic clubs. She became a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Alpha Phi Chapter, and was a member of the Ohio Club, Spanish Club, and the NAACP. She served as the Secretary to the Dean of Men and the Secretary and Reporter of the Social Science Club. While a student in the Atlanta University Center, Lowery became a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Alpha Pi Chapter in 1945 at Clark Atlanta University, Ohio Club, Spanish Club and NAACP.

While living in Birmingham, Alabama, Lowery attended the church where her father ministered. There, her sister introduced her to Rev. Dr. Joseph Echols Lowery, a former newspaper editor and school teacher. They married on September 25, 1947 and together they have three daughters, Yvonne L. Kennedy, Karen G. Lowery and Cheryl Lowery.

Joseph Lowery was enrolled in seminary. After implementing the foundations to a successful campaign to desegregate buses Rev. Dr. Joseph Echols Lowery frequently met with Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy. On January 10, 1957, the three minsters founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Evelyn Lowery worked with Joseph Lowery in SCLC. During her time in the civil rights movement Evelyn Lowery experienced the brutal nature of the movement, especially around the treatment and violence of women. In 1965, Evelyn Lowery witnessed the murder of civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo at the Selma to Montgomery March. In 1979, she founded the SCLC/Women’s Organizational Movement for Equality Now (SCLC/W.O.M.E.N.), and she continued to form partnerships and alliances with women’s groups throughout the world.

SCLC/W.O.M.E.N. hosted several direct-action programs including the Drum Major for Justice Awards, Mother Daughter Luncheons, the Civil Rights and African American Heritage Tours, HIV/AIDS Crisis Programming, Stop the Killing Campaign, voter registration drives, education and mentoring programs and many more. The Learning Center at SCLC/W.O.M.E.N. has been a staple in fostering personal and professional development in the community, for primarily for low-income women. The organization has had a strong structural implementation of programming: focusing on topics such as HIV/AIDS, child and spouse abuse, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, school dropout, family life, and Black male survival. Volunteers and members of SCLC/W.O.M.E.N. host teach-ins, mentoring and community programs, workshops, conferences and seminars.

The organization has systematically worked to dismantle the pillars of racial, gender and economic inequities with funding from major donors, and private and federal corporations. Lowery established relationships with the National Council of Negro Women, Murphy/Harpst Home for Children (Cedartown, Georgia), Center for Disease Control, Kennedy School of Atlanta Children, McDaniel Glen Housing Projects, and Kellogg Foundation among others.

Evelyn Lowery’s work through SCLC/W.O.M.E.N. focused on fundraising, raising awareness of civic and social issues, and building up cultural spaces of remembrance for civil rights work. The Drum Major for Justice Golf Classic was created to raise funds for the SCLC/W.O.M.E.N. Oratorical Contest Scholarship, which awarded well over $100,000 in scholarships. Lowery’s artistic commemoration of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement led to thirteen Heritage Tour Monuments placed throughout the South. Lowery led the organization to the purchase of the Tabor Building, 328 Auburn Avenue.

Lowery’s work has been acknowledged by Presidents: Clinton, Bush, Obama and Biden. She was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame in Atlanta. Lowery was an active member of Kappa Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

Evelyn Gibson Lowery died on September 26, 2013, at the age of 88, in Georgia.


210 Linear feet

Language of Materials



This collection is divided into nine series: 1. Joseph E. Lowery papers; 2. Evelyn G. Lowery papers; 3. Southern Christian Leadership Conference records; 4. SCLC/W.O.M.E.N. records; 5. Subject and research files; 6. Printed and published material; 7. Memorabilia; 8. Photographs; 9. Audiovisual. The contents of the series are arranged alphabetically or chronologically. See series notes for each series for more details.

Related Materials

Materials related to Joseph E. Lowery, Evelyn G. Lowery, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and SCLC/W.O.M.E.N. can be found at the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library at Emory University.

The Joseph Echols and Evelyn Gibson Lowery Collection, circa 1900-2019, (bulk: 1950-2013)
Finding aid prepared by Amber L. Moore, Sara Matthews, Autumn Wilson, Aletha Carter, Jasmaine Talley, Alana Barnes-Blalock, and Allison Whitted 2023 April
April 2023
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, Inc. Repository


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