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

"I could see then that he had a reverence for the past and a vision for the future," Lowery says. "I had a candidate."

During sensitive periods of the campaign -- including controversial remarks made by Obama's former pastor Jeremiah Wright and comments made by prominent black politicians that Obama was not ready to be president -- Lowery was a rock, Obama advisers say.

Jarrett says Lowery was "a very astute counselor and adviser to [Obama]. He was forthcoming with the president-elect, and he was never shy about telling the president-elect what he thought on any issue. He has the kind of confidence that comes with the wisdom of age."

Lowery was constantly challenging the early notions about Obama in the black community when barbershop conversations centered on such questions as "Is he black enough?" Lowery sparred with other Atlanta civil rights leaders including congressman John Lewis, who had endorsed Hillary Clinton's candidacy, and former mayor Andrew Young, who said Obama wasn't ready.

"Some people felt like they owed the Clintons. I never felt like I owed anybody anything," Lowery says.

He heaps praise on Obama, but he also tells churchgoers not to put away their marching shoes. Black median income is still only two-thirds of white median income, he says, and blacks are disproportionately caught up in the criminal justice system.

"The color of power must change, but the character of the struggle must stay constant," Lowery says. "I guarantee I'm going to get mad at Obama. I already don't like some of his appointments, but I trust him. . . . We are going to be advocating with Brother Obama. He's not a civil rights leader. He's president."

Lowery, who supports civil unions, has already spoken out about Obama's controversial selection of the Rev. Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation, which has been protested by gay rights groups because of disparaging comments Warren has made about gays and his support of the California proposition to ban same-sex marriage.

"I understand the protesters and I disagree vehemently with some of the nasty things Brother Warren said about gay people. I support civil rights for all citizens. I don't think you can fragment civil rights," Lowery says. "I have also said to gay groups, 'If y'all can stop talking about marriage and start talking about civil unions it would change things.' The concept of marriage is so embedded in my soul as being between a man and a woman."

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Lowery has been working his inaugural prayer over in his mind. But he had not yet put pen to paper when he got a call two weeks ago from Obama's religious affairs director, Joshua DuBois, to tell him he will have two minutes on the inaugural stage.

Lowery asked first how long Warren would get. DuBois said the opening prayer has also been allotted two minutes.

When Lowery hung up the phone and told his secretary, they both burst out laughing.

"Have you ever said a prayer in two minutes?" she asked.

"I've never tried," Lowery said, smiling, "but they can't turn the mike off on me."

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