Lowery, A Drum Major For Environmental Justice

By Felicia M. Davis

As I say farewell to our beloved leader, spiritual and intellectual guide and personal mentor, reflections upon the many lessons that Dr. Joseph E. Lowery taught informs my perspective on virtually everything. We know that he would admonish us to listen to the experts about COVID19 but he would also trust God and he definitely was never one for social distancing.

He loved people and he was surrounded by an eclectic mix of humanity that loved him back.
Dr. Lowery would definitely approve of a homegoing in the month associated with caring for the earth and on a day that is so tragically associated with the Civil Rights Movement that he dedicated his life to; the assassination of his close associate, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In addition to his lifelong fight for voting rights, social and economic justice, Dr. Lowery was a Drum Major for Environmental Justice. When environmental issues appeared low on the Black agenda, Dr. Lowery reminded us of his work in North Carolina where he laid down in front of trucks to stop the dumping of poisonous PCB contaminated soil in poor predominantly black Warren County. This action ignited the environmental justice movement as the newest wing of the civil rights movement.

Dr. Lowery was the first national civil rights leader to elevate climate change and air pollution on the Black agenda. He anchored the trailblazing “Air of Injustice Report” forging a coalition that included the Black Leadership Forum, Southern Organizing Committee for Social and Economic Justice and the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda together with mainstream environmental advocates Clear the Air and Clean Air Task Force.

Dr. Lowery was a gifted orator and prophetic preacher able to lift even the most vulnerable with messages of love and respect often more consequential than social services. He worked tirelessly to advance human rights, justice and equality. He also spoke passionately about the biblical responsibility to care for God’s Creation including delivering an environmental sermon at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.

Dr. Lowery considered environmental stewardship to be a moral responsibility and he warned that, “We have deserted the good spouse of spirituality. We’re shacking up. We’re carrying on an illicit affair with the prostitute of materialism and greed. That’s an incestuous affair, and it has produced offspring with congenital defects: violence, corruption, exploitation, racism, sexism. All of these are products of materialism and greed.”

The environmental movement owes a tremendous debt to Dr. Lo`wery for advancing equity, justice and inclusion not to mention elevating the conversation to the spiritual plane. We honor his legacy by doing the work, always remembering that “love embraces justice.”

Felicia M. Davis is the Director of the HBCU Green Fund, Sustainability Director at Clark Atlanta University and worked closely with Dr. Lowery for over two decades.

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