Skip to Content

NEA honors legendary civil rights warrior Joseph Lowery

WASHINGTON - June 23, 2011 -

The Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery will be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Education Association (NEA) at its annual Human and Civil Rights Awards dinner to be held in Chicago on July 1.

“What a thrill it will be for me to give Rev. Lowery NEA’s Lifetime Achievement Award,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “At a time when educators’ basic rights are under attack and our public schools are being starved for funds, we can learn much from Rev. Lowery about standing up for what you believe in, regardless of the consequences.”

The Montgomery bus boycott, the Birmingham street protests, the historic “I have a dream” rally in Washington, D.C., the Selma march for voter rights, the Memphis sanitation workers strike, the first civil disobedience action against apartheid outside the South African embassy—Joseph Lowery was always there, a nonviolent warrior for equality and justice, a leader willing to go to jail for his beliefs.

Together with the Rev. Ralph Abernathy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Lowery founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and 51 years later, he was given the honor of offering the benediction at the inauguration of America’s first Black president. In his blessing, he implored God to help Americans make choices “on the side of love, not hate, on the side of inclusion not exclusion.”

Now retired from the pulpit, the civil rights activist served for years as the pastor of the Cascade United Methodist Church in Atlanta. He still lives in Atlanta, and he is still a force to be reckoned with as he advocates for better health care, housing and education for the poor.

It is fitting that NEA honors Joseph Lowery at its annual Human and Civil Rights Awards dinner. This event is the creation of the American Teachers Association (ATA), which represented 85,000 Black teachers who worked n segregated schools. Since its merger with ATA in 1966, NEA has carried on the tradition of the Human and Civil Rights Awards dinner. Like Lowery, the ATA stood up against segregation and the racism that spawned it. 

For more information, visit:
Follow us on twitter at

# # #

The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional organization, representing 3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

CONTACT: Dana Dossett  (202) 822-7823,