Lowery receives Freedom Flame Award

Published 12:24 am Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, co-founder and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was presented the Freedom Flame Award during a banquet at the Carl Morgan Convention Center on Saturday night.

As Lowery entered the convention center, the capacity crowd stood and clapped. After the applause died down, one man continued to stand and shout.

“C’mon, we can do better than that,” he said, shaking his open hands in the air. “This is Dr. Joseph Lowery.”

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The 87-year-old Lowery fought for civil rights across the country and delivered the benediction at the inauguration of President Barack Obama. While Lowery spoke about how far civil rights have progressed, he told the crowd there was no time for complacency.

“It’s not something to just celebrate and go on as usual,” Lowery said. “There ought to be a different America. The struggle is not over.”

Lowery attended the Bridge Crossing Jubilee in 2007. He cancelled a speaking engagement when he heard President Barack Obama was slated to speak at Brown Chapel A.M.E. While he left President Obama’s speech impressed, it was not until he joined the president on the campaign trail in Iowa that he realized the chance for change.

“Some of my colleagues thought I was crazy,” Lowery said. “He had a deep reverence for the past and a sharp focus for the future.”

Lowery said he never though he would live to see a black president when he was marching alongside Hosea Williams and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As the election results rolled in, Lowery was overcome with emotion.

“On that November night when the announcement was made, I didn’t jump, and I didn’t scream,” he said. “I sat there and wept.”

Elisabeth Omilami, the daughter of Hosea Williams, said the banquet highlighted the collaborative efforts of people like her father and Lowery.

“It took everybody to make things happen,” she said. “It wasn’t a black thing. It was a people thing, a justice thing. There’s no place in the world like Selma, Ala., tonight.”

Sen. Hank Sanders said all the celebrations and events that occur during Jubilee are pointless, though, if future generations do not learn about the past and look toward the future.

“It’s a time to write it down so it will be remembered,” Sanders said.