Evelyn Gibson Lowery was born in Wichita, Kansas to Reverend Dr. Harry and Mrs. Evelyn Gibson. Her home life shaped the pivotal role that she would play in history. She found inspiration and commitment to social activism growing up in a home where her parents were involved in the life of the Methodist Church as her father was a Methodist minister. Dr. Harry Gibson was active in civic and community organizations and served as President of the local Memphis NAACP. A young Evelyn Lowery’s compassion and dedication to justice would continue to develop as she would become a civil rights activist and leader in her own right.
Evelyn Lowery attended Youngstown University and graduated from Clark College where she pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Mrs. Lowery loved her sorority and remained active over the course of her life. Upon graduation, it was her intention to become a social worker. However, while living in Birmingham, Alabama, she met a young man, Joseph Echols Lowery, who would later enter the ministry under the mentoring of her father. Evelyn and Joseph were joined in marriage on May 5, 1947. To some extent, Mrs. Lowery’s social work training manifested itself in her ministry as a pastor’s wife over the almost seventy years of her marriage, and in the role she would assume in the civil rights movement.
Evelyn Lowery worked in the movement for justice and civil rights alongside her husband. As an activist, she marched, boycotted, served jail time and traveled the world on behalf of human and civil rights. She understood that the contribution of women in the civil rights movement was often unnoticed. In 1979, during her husband’s tenure as President of SCLC, Mrs. Lowery, who was passionate about issues impacting women and children, established SCLC/ W.O.M.E.N (Women’s Organizational Movement for Equality Now, Inc.). As Convener, she established AIDS/HIV educational conferences, the Women’s Empowerment Training Center for GED/Computer training, Bridging the Gap Girls to women mentoring program, the Drum Major for Justice Awards Banquet, the Civil Rights Heritage Tour, and erected thirteen monuments along the Civil Rights Trail.
On May 26, 1979, in Decatur, Alabama, Dr. Joseph Lowery led 2,000 marchers in support of Tommie Lee Hines, a mentally disabled black man accused of raping a white woman. Hines was convicted in October 1978, by an all-white jury. Because the Klan had threatened violence, Mrs. Lowery agreed not to march beside her husband as usual, but to follow in her car instead. Her car and the marchers were met by a mob of Klansmen. Shots were fired. The gunfire shattered the windshield of Mrs. Lowery’s car, barely missing her.
Evelyn Lowery loved God, her family, her sorority, her alma mater, justice. Among the awards she received, she was especially proud to receive a Doctor of Humane Letters from Bennett College in 2009.
Evelyn Lowery transitioned on September 26, 2013 at the age of 88. In a statement to the press, Joseph Lowery said, “My beloved Evelyn was a special woman, whose life was committed to service, especially around the issues of empowering women.” Dr. Joseph Lowery recommended to the board of directors of the Joseph Lowery Institute for Justice and Human Rights that the name and legacy of Dr. Evelyn Gibson Lowery be included in the name and mission of the Lowery Institute. Her name was voted unanimously by the board of directors. The Joseph and Evelyn Lowery Institute for Justice & Human Rights @Clark Atlanta University. The legacy of Dr. Evelyn Gibson Lowery is secure on the campus she loved.
Selected Awards & Honors
1997 Women of Stature Award 2004 City of Selma Joseph and Evelyn Lowery Day
2007 Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Day at the Capitol Lifetime Achievement Award
2009 Honorary Doctorate, Bennett College
2009 Women’s Federation for World Peace USA National Assembly Lifetime Achievement Award
2010 Atlanta Urban League, Inc. Equal Opportunity Award
2010 Interfaith Children’s Movement Child Advocacy Award
Atlanta Tribune Magazine Hall of Fame Women of the Civil Rights Movement
APEX Museum’s Tribute Award to Black Women for Achievement in Civil Rights
Atlanta Business League’s Women of Vision – 100 Most Influential Women of Atlanta
International Civil Rights Walk of Fame Induction, Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site
Rosa Parks Award
WXIA-11Alive Community Service Award
YWCA Academy of Women Achievers Award