The reverend cofounded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King Jr.
Reverend Joseph Lowery, a leader of the civil rights movement who worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr., has died at age 98.
Lowery died Friday night of natural causes, family friend Imara Canady told BuzzFeed News.
Born in Huntsville, Alabama, the Methodist minister, who was often hailed as the “Dean of the Civil Rights Movement,” cofounded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) with King in 1957. Lowery served as the president of the SCLC from 1977 until 1998, according to the Joseph & Evelyn Lowery Institute.
In 1965, Lowery was chosen by King to chair the delegation delivering the demands of the Selma-to-Montgomery march to Alabama’s segregationist then-governor George Wallace. Wallace ordered the marchers beaten in the incident that became known as Bloody Sunday and ultimately led to the enactment of the Voting Rights Act.
As the head of the Alabama Civic Affairs Association, Lowery led the movement to desegregate buses and public spaces, and helped lead the Montgomery bus boycott following Rosa Parks‘ arrest in 1955.
Lowery delivered the benediction at President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009. Later that year, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In a statement Saturday, Obama expressed his and former first lady Michelle Obama’s gratitude for Lowery’s support during his presidential campaign, as well as his work for the country.
Lowery, he said, was “a giant who let so many of us stand on his shoulders.”
“Joseph Lowery changed the face of America. He carried the baton longer and surer than almost anybody,” Obama added. “It falls to the rest of us now to pick it up and never stop moving forward until we finish what he started – that journey to justice.”
Fellow activists, politicians, and religious leaders also paid tribute to Lowery on Twitter.
“I’m grateful for a life well-lived and for its influence on mine,” Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., tweeted on Friday night. “I’ll miss you uncle Joe.”
Lowery was married to his wife, activist Dr. Evelyn Lowery, for 63 years until her death in 2013. He is survived by their three daughters.
Olivia Niland is a news reporter and curation editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.