Civil rights icon to speak at Augusta interfaith event

He’s called the dean of the civil rights movement for a reason.

The Rev. Joseph Lowery was there for the Montgomery bus boycott, the Selma-to-Montgomery marches, the March on Washington and the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

“Today he is still very much speaking for justice and freedom,” said Rabbi Robert Klensin of Congregation Children of Israel.

On Tuesday, the civil rights icon will speak at the area’s largest interfaith event, Keeping the Dream Alive: Why Dr. King Still Matters. The annual celebration in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday brings together local Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and Hindus.

It begins at 7 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Augusta, 3500 Walton Way.

“It’s very much a worship service recognizing and honoring the things all religions have in common,” said Andy Reese, ministry associate at Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta and a member of the Progressive Religious Coalition.

The Progressive Religious Coalition of Augusta began holding the program in 2008. Past speakers include the Rev. Otis Moss III, the former pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Augusta who is now pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, and the Rev. Raphael Warnock of King’s home church, Ebenezer Baptist in Atlanta.

Lowery, a Paine College graduate, helped lead the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 after Rosa Parks’ arrest. He co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with King and served as president and chief executive officer of the organization from 1977 to 1997.

In 2009, he delivered the benediction at the inauguration of President Obama. Later that year, he received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

There’s a reason he has been called one of the country’s greatest black preachers, said Michael McCullen, a member of the Progressive Religious Coalition and co-chairman of the Augusta Mayors Blue Ribbon Commission on Race.

“We want to recognize this man for the icon he is,” McCullen said.

At 91, Lowery brings a unique perspective, he said.

“He’s just a joy,” McCullen said. “Once he gets up on that stage, he gets going. You want to listen to him for hours.”

In addition to Lowery’s keynote address, the program includes special music plus readings and prayers from each faith group present. It’s a service made intentionally welcoming to all, McCullen said.

“We didn’t want one specific group to own the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King,” he said. “He appealed to everybody. He was for every man.”

Klensin agreed.

“The theme of this service is Keeping the Dream Alive: Why Dr. King Still Matters,” he said. “There are so many things he started. There’s still lots to do. We need everybody working together to make them happen.”

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Keeping the Dream Alive: Why Dr. King Still Matters is an annual interfaith event in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday; music from the John S. Davidson Fine Arts Chorale and Trio Intermezzo begins at 6:45 p.m.

WHERE: First Baptist Church of Augusta, 3500 Walton Way

MORE: Learn more about the Progressive Religious Coalition of Augusta, the host of the event, at prc-augusta.org.

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