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AUBURN, Ala. — The Rev. Joseph Lowery, an icon of the 1960s civil rights movement, cautioned an Auburn University audience not to “sanitize” the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s achievements.
Speaking at an event to mark King’s birthday on Friday (Jan. 15), Lowery said some have hijacked King’s dream, using it and ensuing advancements in civil rights to try to derail affirmative action.
“I’m serious about the need to recapture the spirit of affirmative action,” he said. “Affirmative action, in my mind, is not preferential treatment. It is intentional. It is being as intentional about closing the gap as we were about creating the gap.”
And he said people today should not honor King as a missionary and ignore his mission.
“We must not let them put Martin on this rotunda of sentimental irrelevancy and declare him a glorified social worker,” he said. “I have nothing against social workers, but he was a militant but nonviolent revolutionary.”
Lowery, who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with King and others in 1957, said the median income of African-Americans is still about 67 percent of whites in America.
“That’s no accident, but we cannot close that gap if we think we’re going to close it by osmosis, incidentally or accidentally,” he said.
Lowery, who referred to himself as a “Northerner” because he’s originally from Huntsville, Ala., said it was never the purpose of the civil rights movement “to defeat white folks.”
“It was to defeat policies put in place by white folks who held the reins of power, and in defeating that policy we found our way to freedom,” he said.
Lowery touched briefly on gay rights, saying he favored civil unions, but would not support gay marriage.
“The problem is the word `marriage,”‘ he said. “The opposition would be less intense if you just stayed on the word `civil union.’ The problem is when you say `marriage,’ it sends us into cultural shock.”
But Lowery said he wants to “come down, if I err, on the side of love, not hate, on the side of inclusion, not exclusion, on the side of tolerance, not intolerance.”
Lowery gave the benediction at President Obama’s inauguration. “I have one regret about the inauguration,” he quipped. “There I stood with 2 million people in my congregation, and I couldn’t figure out a way to take up a collection.”
— Bob Lowry

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