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April 16, 2008

Albert Shanker Award for Distinguished Service: Dr. Joseph E. Lowery

Source: NYSUT Awards and Honors
Caption: From left, Shanker Award winner Joseph E. Lowery, NYSUT officers Dick Iannuzzi and Alan Lubin, and Eadie Shanker.

Dr. Joseph E. Lowery

Convenor, Coalition for the People's Agenda

Chairman Emeritus, Black Leadership Forum, Inc.

Co-founder, President Emeritus, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)

Dr. Joseph E. Lowery is co-founder, with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., of the SCLC in 1957; served as vice president (1957-67); chairman of the board (1967-77); and as president and chief executive officer from February 1977 - January 1998. Dr. King named him chairman of the delegation to take demands of the Selma-to-Montgomery March (1965) to Gov. George Wallace. That month, UFT President Albert Shanker flew to Selma and handed Dr. King the keys to station wagons donated by the union to transport voters to register. Shanker then joined King, Lowery and thousands of others in marching from Selma to Montgomery.

Lowery's genesis as a civil rights advocate was in the early '50s in Mobile, Ala., where he headed the Alabama Civic Affairs Association, which led the movement for the desegregation of buses and public accommodations. While in Mobile, his property was seized by the Alabama courts in a historic libel suit: Sullivan v. New York Times. The U.S. Supreme Court vindicated the ministers in a landmark ruling on libel.

Lowery led the historic Alabama to Washington pilgrimage (1982) to free Maggie Bozeman and Julia Wilder, falsely convicted of voter fraud. This march helped gain the extension of provisions of the Voting Rights Act to 2007. Nationally recognized as a strong proponent of affirmative action, he also led the movement in Nashville to desegregate public accommodations. In Birmingham, he served as president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, which spearheaded the hiring of Birmingham's first black police officers.

He is a co-founder and chairman emeritus of the Black Leadership Forum, a consortium of national black advocacy organizations, and served as third president, following Vernon Jordan and Benjamin Hooks. As president of SCLC, he negotiated covenants with major corporations for employment advances and business contracts with minority companies. One of the first protest campaigns he led was against the Atlanta-based Southern Company for contracting to purchase 10 million tons of coal from South Africa (1977). He was among the first five persons arrested at the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C., in the "Free South Africa" campaign (1984). He co-chaired the 1990 Nelson Mandela visit to Atlanta following his release from prison and awarded Mandela the SCLC/Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Award. He was keynote speaker at the African Renaissance Dinner in Durban in 1998 honoring Mandela's retirement. He was invited to keynote the dedication of a school and hospital in East Germany honoring Martin Luther King Jr. He led a peace delegation to the Middle East and met with the president of Lebanon and Yassir Arafat to seek justice in the Middle East by non-violent means. He led a peace delegation to Central America. He led protests against the dumping of toxic waste in Warren County, N.C., and was arrested twice in this campaign, which gave birth to the environmental justice movement.

Lowery was arrested in Atlanta in 1968, fighting for the rights of city garbage workers. During the missing and murdered children's crisis in 1979, he was a leader in working for calm in the community, and in urging federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to maximize efforts to arrest the culprit(s). His message of "let us turn TO each other not ON each other!" was heard loud and clear.

The Albert Shanker Award for Distinguished Service  - the highest honor bestowed by NYSUT  - recognizes special contributions to public education in the United States.

Pioneering a militant brand of teacher unionism, Albert Shanker led educators across New York state in a crusade for workplace dignity, and then led teachers nationwide into an era of educational reform and higher standards. The late, legendary UFT and AFT president has been described as "one of the greatest educators of the 20th century."