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Still Singing the Lord's Song of Justice

Civil rights activist the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery shares thoughts, essays in his first book

The two men began to meet with others throughout the state and nation, and eventually organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, which became an engine to address voter rights and public transportation issues. The organization is where Lowery spent much of his life's work.

Historic battles

Through that work, Lowery encountered persecution and recalls some of those episodes in his new book. In 1960, he along with four other ministers ran an ad inthe New York Times critical of Alabama Gov. John Patterson and city commissioners in Montgomery. The ad was signed by people such as Sammy Davis Jr., Harry Belafonte and Eleanor Roosevelt. The city officials filed libel suits against the Times and the four ministers, winning judgments for malice. Because the ministers could not raise bond, their personal properties were seized.

"In Mobile, they took my car, a Chrysler. I will never forget the sight of my three daughters crying in the doorway of the parsonage as the wrecker towed the car away," he writes. "A few weeks later, they sold my car at an auction for less than nine hundred dollars."

The judgments were ultimately reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court, and the case is often seen as the classic ruling on libel.

Lowery says he is glad that government worked in that case and often still gets it right.

Today, when he sees government he can't help but think of President Obama. Lowery says he is thrilled his civil rights work, along with the work of so many others both black and white, helped to pave the way for history being made in the White House. He may be remembered by a new generation for delivering the benediction at Obama's inauguration, but hopes he is remembered for much more.

"I do hope that people will remember that here was a guy who preached and tried hard to apply lessons of the Gospel to the lessons of life. He used moral imperatives to everyday problems like the aged, livable wages and good housing and health care," Lowery says. "All life is sacred and all belong to God. It says the earth is the Lord's, and God meant it."

Angela Bryant Starke is a writer in Tennessee.

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