Joseph Echols Lowery oral history interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier in Atlanta, Georgia, 2011-06-06.
I never will forget the two or three times I met with George Wallace that he, he, uh, remarked - he was astounded by the fact that our spirit was, uh, was nonviolent and reflected love, or if you couldn’t quite make love, we did not reflect hatred, uh, in, uh, our attitude toward even those who persecuted us. And, uh, that was a strange weapon for white ruffians. [Laughs] And even the Citizens Council, who were the respectable, you know, group among the two, but they couldn’t understand it and, uh, they tried to call it cowardice. But you couldn’t call cowards people who would, who would, uh, walk into the face of fire and into the face of the beast, uh, unarmed and, uh, singing, “Glory, glory, Hallelujah.” And that was the power of the Movement, and it touched people’s hearts everywhere.
I remember a white lady saying to me once in Nashville that she was opposed to the direct action movement. She thought it was stirring up trouble. But once she watched how we conducted ourselves and how, uh, our oppressors conducted themselves, she said, “There’s no comparison. The Spirit of the Lord is upon you, and I’m opposed to what they’re doing.” And it was a long - she’d come a long, long way, because at first she was opposed to - she wanted everything to be settled through the law.
But, you know, we never did, we never did get a clear judicial interpretation of the sit-ins. Uh, I don’t think, even to this day, we have a clear-cut opinion from the Supreme Court about sit-ins. But, of course, they outlawed segregation in public accommodations - the Congress did - and so forth, so it became a moot point. But, uh, the power of the Movement, both in terms of touching those who opposed or oppressed us, and in terms of our own spiritual behavior and our spiritual strengthening, it was a great experience for us.
JM: Yeah. Let me also ask you - in ’59 - oops, John’s going to switch tracks. [30:00]
[Recording stops and then resumes]
JM: We’re back on after a quick break. Reverend Lowery, let me ask. Obviously in - through the late ’50s, um, you and others were targeted in a libel campaign meant to obviously harass and knock you back a notch, and it did have its effect. I mean, ultimately, the Supreme Court would reach its decision, but that was years down the line. Can you talk a little bit about the personal ramifications of, say, the property seizures and others in ’59 for you?