Joseph Echols Lowery oral history interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier in Atlanta, Georgia, 2011-06-06.
And we adjourned the meeting and reconvened later in New Orleans. And so, the official birthplace of SCLC was New Orleans, and, uh, only because we interrupted the meeting in, uh, Atlanta to, uh, so that Ralph could go home and see about his church and home and family. And, uh, of course, great turmoil ensued in Montgomery and Birmingham, Fred Shuttlesworth leading in Birmingham and, uh, Martin [Luther King Jr.] and Ralph [Abernathy] in Montgomery.
Uh, they had a big mass meeting one night in Montgomery, and we drove up. And when we got there, the Klan had already seized the town, as it were, and we ended up not being able to get to the church. Uh, the Klan was - we went to the hotel, the old Ben Moore Hotel [in Montgomery]. And, uh, while we were, uh, hiding, I guess, as it were, in the hotel, we were cut off from the church. And, uh, Martin called the Attorney General, and they dispatched law enforcement to the church, and disaster was avoided.
But that was the beginning of SCLC. We, uh, decided that we’d have a South-wide organization, that we could strengthen each other and, uh, spread the Movement across the nation.
JL: And Dr. King was elected president, and I was voted vice-president. Well, I think I was elected secretary at first and later vice-president. But, uh, that was the beginning of SCLC.
JM: Let me ask you a couple more questions about those - that period when SCLC was coming into being. Um, did you have much contact with Bayard Rustin?
JL: Yeah, Bayard came down to Montgomery.
JL: Uh, several times, and met with us, uh, in pulling together the, uh, written theses that formed the basis for SCLC, and, uh, he was very helpful in that and, uh, he was a brilliant man. And, uh, uh, we welcomed his assistance, uh, and he didn’t charge us anything, which was good, because we didn’t have anything - [laughs] so, no charge, no debt. But, uh, Bayard Rustin, yes, he came down several times and worked with us for a long time. Uh, later, there developed some differences in the Movement, and, uh - but Bayard was a very influential figure in pulling together the paperwork, particularly, in the early days of SCLC.
JM: Let me ask, if you would, just reflect a little bit on young Reverend Doctor King’s emergence through those several years.