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The Rev. Joseph Lowery Preaches Obama's Gospel of Change

Those years were filled with marches, like the one in 1979 when a group of robed Klansmen in Decatur, Ala., opened fire on Lowery and others protesting the imprisonment of a mentally retarded black youth charged with raping a white woman. Lowery escaped the barrage of bullets without a scratch. Several hit his wife's car, but she, too, was unharmed. A decade later the Klansmen agreed to a lawsuit settlement that required them to attend a course on brotherly love taught by Lowery.

In the 1980s, he and his wife also protested in front of companies that refused to divest from South Africa and at the site of a hazardous waste dumping ground in a predominantly black town in North Carolina. In the 1990s, they held "No Drugs, No Thugs" rallies and collected guns in black neighborhoods.

Much of that work never made it to the daily news pages, which chafes Lowery, who says the media thought "the movement died with Martin."

Lowery has never stopped hearing from people looking for justice.

At his office in the historic Atlanta Life Insurance Building and along with far-flung requests for tickets to Obama's inauguration that Lowery can't provide, his in-box recently included a 10-page handwritten letter that began, "I'm a born-again Christian in prison for a crime I didn't commit." Lowery has received hundreds of similar letters. He now turns them over to the criminal justice committee of the Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda, which he heads.

"His work was not only in the pulpit but in the streets," says Harvard Law professor and civil rights lawyer Charles Ogletree. "He really is the dean of the black clergy in America, [and] has always been a person to speak his mind. We saw that in his very direct comments to President Bush at Coretta Scott King's funeral."

Lowery took flak from many after the funeral speech in which he criticized the war on Iraq and social policies with a rhyming line about weapons of mass destruction and weapons of mass deception. Bush was sitting on the stage behind Lowery as the preacher doled out the criticism, but even the president seemed touched by Lowery's ability to deliver medicine with a spoonful of honey. Lowery's tone was neither sour nor angry.

Bush hugged Lowery as he left the podium.

Lowery condemns Bush's policies but doesn't hesitate to add: "I give him credit. Not one Democrat has appointed two back-to-back black secretaries of state."

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Lowery says his decision to support Obama was made the day in March 2007 that both men were in Selma for the 42nd anniversary of the "Bloody Sunday" march. The preacher and politician locked arms as they marched, and Lowery was on the dais as Obama spoke at a church.

In his remarks, Obama referred to civil rights elders as the "Moses generation" who paved the way for himself and other members of the "Joshua generation."


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