A series of public tributes were held this week in Atlanta to celebrate the life of civil rights activist Evelyn Gibson Lowery, who with her husband, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, participated in the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march in Alabama.
Evelyn died Thursday morning at her Atlanta home, a family spokeswoman said. She was 88.
She suffered a stroke last week, and last Wednesday returned home from a hospital after medical personnel decided “there was nothing more medically that they could do,” the Lowery family said in a statement.
On Monday, a public viewing was held at Cascade United Methodist Church in southwest Atlanta. This was followed Tuesday by an Ivy Beyond the Wall ceremony conducted by members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Kappa Omega Chapter at Clark Atlanta University’s Davage Auditorium.
On Wednesday, Oct. 2, a viewing was held at Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel on the campus of Morehouse College. Her homegoing celebration followed in King Chapel. Internment was at Westview Cemetery in southwest Atlanta.
“My beloved Evelyn was a special woman, whose life was committed to service, especially around the issues of empowering women,” Joseph Lowery said. “She was a wonderful mother and wife and I thank God that she didn’t suffer any pain and that I was blessed having her as my partner, my confidante and my best friend for close to 70 years.
“I will miss her each and every day, but as a man of faith, I know that she is with her God. My entire family has been overwhelmed by the continuous outpourings of love, support and prayers that have come from across the country and we ask for your continued prayers over the next few days.”
The leadership of the NAACP issued these statements following Lowery’s death.
“A pioneer and champion in the civil rights movement has passed on,” stated Roslyn M. Brock. “Evelyn Lowery’s leadership was essential to the longevity and power behind the movement for equality. Ms. Lowery was a drum major for justice in her own right. Her spirit lives on in the initiatives she founded and in the activists she mentored across the nation,” said Roslyn M. Brock, chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors:
“Today, we mourn the passing of a champion for civil and human rights,” stated NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “Mrs. Lowery’s foresight and leadership pushed the envelope of what organizations like the SCLC and the NAACP could do for women and families. Her legacy lives on in the coalitions she built and the strong foundation she laid. She was a hero and will be truly missed.”
Many other accolades are being offered:
Melanie L. Campbell, convener, Black Women’s Roundtable and president/CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation says: “Our hearts are heavy in learning of the passing of Mrs. Evelyn Gibson Lowery. Mrs. Lowery was a visionary founder and leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, (SCLC), W.O.M.E.N., devoted wife and partner of Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, mother and a mentor to countless women and girls across the country. We send our deepest condolences to the Lowery family during this time of bereavement.
“The nation has lost a great leader and advocate for civil rights, women’s rights, human rights and social justice for all people. We know that our world is a better place because of the life’s work of Mrs. Lowery and SCLC W.O.M.E.N. So many of our unsung heroes and sheroes of the Civil Rights Movement would not have been recognized for their sacrifices if it was not for her work in organizing her annual Civil Rights Heritage Educational Tour that traced the steps of the Civil Rights Movement through Alabama.
Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said: “The Lawyers’ Committee is saddened by the passing of Evelyn G. Lowery, a civil rights activist and leader, who worked tirelessly to promote racial justice and equality and to ensure that women in the movement had a voice as well.”
The Lowerys’ participation in the Selma-to-Montgomery march supporting African Americans’ right to vote was just one aspect of the couple’s historic lives. They were among the pioneers of the American civil rights movement from its beginnings in the 1950s.
Evelyn was the founder of SCLC’s sister organization—SCLC/Women’s Organizational Movement for Equality Now Inc., created in 1979.
The purpose of the group, according to a bio on her group’s website, is to “champion the rights of women, children, families, and responding to the problems of the disenfranchised regardless of ethnicity, gender, age, or religion.”
In the 1980s, she founded several prominent programs, according to the profile. One is the Drum Major for Justice Awards Dinner, which honors people who made contributions in the arena of social justice. Another is the Evelyn G. Lowery Civil Rights Heritage Tour that honors icons of the civil rights movement. She is also responsible for the establishment of monuments honoring those icons.
She founded the Women’s Empowerment Training Center for GED/computer training in 1988 and a mentoring program for girls in 1995.
Lowery was the daughter of a clergyman in Memphis, Tenn., who served in the local NAACP.
“Young Evelyn’s eyes were exposed to the injustices (in) society, and before the age of 18, she committed herself to working towards making those conditions better,” the website bio said.
CNN’s Tenisha Bell and Jason Hanna contributed to this report.