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Keynote Speaker: Reverend Joseph Lowery

Featuring Black Voices Gospel Choir (U.Va.), Black Awakening Gospel Choir (VCU), and the Virginia State University Gospel Chorale


Presented by the Office for Diversity & Equity, the Curry School of Education, and the Office of African American Affairs

Date:        January 24, 2013

Time:        7:00 PM

LocationNewcomb Hall Ballroom (3rd floor)


Join us for an inspiring evening featuring this year's keynote address from the Reverend Doctor Joseph E. Lowery, who will speak about his experiences in the Civil Rights Movement and social justice issues today.  The evening will also include performances by three outstanding choirs: Black Voices Gospel Choir (University of Virginia), Black Awakening Gospel Choir (Virginia Commonwealth University), and the Virginia State University Gospel Chorale.


Reverend Joseph Lowery's Biography

Hailed as the “Dean of the Civil Rights Movement” upon his receipt of the NAACP’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Rev. Dr. Joseph Echols Lowery has assumed and executed a broad and diverse series of roles over the span of his lifetime: leader, pastor/preacher, servant, father, husband, freedom fighter, and advocate.

On August 12, 2009, President Barack Obama awarded Rev. Lowery the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in recognition of his lifelong commitment to the nonviolent struggle for the causes of justice, human rights, economic equality, voting rights, peace, and human dignity. Prior to that, on January 20, 2009, in his inimitable style, Dr. Lowery delivered the Benediction on the occasion of President Obama’s inauguration as the 44th President of the United States.

Born in Huntsville, Alabama, his legacy of service and struggle is long and rich. His genesis as a Civil Rights advocate dates to the early 1950’s where, in Mobile, Alabama he headed the Alabama Civic Affairs Association, the organization which led the movement to desegregate buses and public accommodations.  In 1957, with friend and colleague Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he was a co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He served as Vice President (1957-67); Chairman of the Board (1967-77); and as President and Chief Executive Officer from Feb. 1977–1998. 


In 1961, while  still in Mobile, he was one of four Alabama pastors whose property was seized by the Alabama Courts in an historic, precedent setting libel suit, Sullivan v. NY Times, Abernathy, Lowery, Shuttlesworth, & Seay, because of their civil rights work.  The United States Supreme Court vindicated the ministers in a landmark ruling which defined and clarified constitutionally protected freedoms, and made possible the accurate and unfettered reporting of civil rights campaigns.


In March 1965, he was chosen by Dr. King to Chair the Delegation delivering the demands of the Selma-to-Montgomery March to Alabama Governor George Wallace.  As the world witnessed, Wallace ordered the marchers beaten in the incident that came to be known as “Bloody Sunday," which ultimately led to enactment of the Voting Rights Act.


As president of SCLC, he negotiated covenants with major corporations for employment advances and business contracts with minority companies.  He led one of the first protest campaigns against the Atlanta based Southern Company for contracting to purchase ten million tons of coal from South Africa (1977).  He was among the first five persons arrested at the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C. in the “Free South Africa” campaign (1984).  He co-chaired the 1990 Nelson Mandela visit to Atlanta following his release from prison, and awarded Mandela the SCLC/Martin Luther King, Jr. Human Rights Award.  In 1998, he was Keynote Speaker at the African Renaissance Dinner in Durban, South Africa honoring Mr.  Mandela’s retirement. 

He was invited to keynote the dedication of a school and hospital in East Germany honoring Martin Luther King, Jr; led a Peace Delegation to the Middle East and met with the President of Lebanon and with Yasser Arafat to seek justice by non-violent means; led another Peace Delegation to Central America; and led protests against the dumping of toxic waste in Warren County, N.C.

Nationally recognized as a strong proponent and advocate for affirmative action, he is a Co-founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Black Leadership Forum, a consortium of National Black Advocacy Organizations, where he served as its third President, following Vernon Jordan and Benjamin Hooks.  As Convenor of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda (GCPA), he is active in election reform and voter empowerment, economic justice, criminal justice reform, including alternative sentencing and a moratorium on the death penalty.

Ebony Magazine, in recognizing Dr. Lowery as one of the nation’s “15 Greatest Black Preachers,” described   him as the “consummate voice of biblical social relevancy, a focused prophetic voice, speaking truth to power.”  He was internationally celebrated and admired for his inspired and bold messages of truth when he delivered eulogies at the funerals of Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King.