Joseph Lowery, U.S. civil rights leader and MLK aide, dies at 98

The Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, a veteran civil rights leader who helped the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and fought against racial discrimination, died Friday, a family statement said. He was 98.

A charismatic and fiery preacher, Lowery led the SCLC for two decades — restoring the organization’s financial stability and pressuring businesses not to trade with South Africa’s apartheid-era regime — before retiring in 1997.

Lowery, considered the dean of civil rights veterans, lived to celebrate a November 2008 milestone that few of his movement colleagues thought they would ever witness — the election of an African American president.

At an emotional victory celebration for President-elect Barack Obama in Atlanta, Lowery said, “America tonight is in the process of being born again.”

An early and enthusiastic supporter of Obama over then-Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, Lowery also gave the benediction at Obama’s inauguration.

“We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that, yes, we can work together to achieve a more perfect union,” he said.

In 2009, Obama awarded Lowery the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honour.

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