ATLANTA - To help him celebrate his 85th birthday, the Rev. Joseph Lowery invited two friends who share his quick wit, sharp tongue and tendency to create controversy.
First was Harry Belafonte, the actor, singer and activist who has criticized the Bush administration on the war in Iraq and the government's response to Hurricane Katrina.
Mr. Belafonte quipped that he was surprised to see such a crowd lined up to pay tribute to the Rev. Lowery, whose birthday was Oct. 6.
"I didn't know Joe Lowery had that many people fooled," Mr. Belafonte said.
Comedian and activist Dick Gregory, who celebrated his 74th birthday Oct. 12, got a slap on the back from the Rev. Lowery after his remarks - more stand-up comedy act than salute.
He began by apologizing for being late, which he blamed on mixing up his nutritional supplements with the sexual enhancement drug Viagra.
Mr. Belafonte and Mr. Gregory also heaped praise on the Rev. Lowery and his wife, Evelyn Gibson Lowery, who endured the ridicule of their friends for the civil rights icon's birthday roast and fundraiser Thursday night.
"They made it look so easy, because they have caught hell in their lives," Mr. Gregory said. "You can't look at them and tell what they went through."
Some took the opportunity to poke fun at themselves as they teased the Rev. Lowery.
Former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes was the lone white person to speak at the event.
"I'm sorry to be a little late, but as they announced, white folks are always late," Mr. Barnes said.
Not to be outdone, the Rev. Lowery stole the show at times. When state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, D-Austell, asked everyone in the auditorium younger than 40 to stand and thank him for his lifelong struggle, the Rev. Lowery stood, too.
Proceeds from the evening benefitted the Joseph E. Lowery Institute for Justice and Human Rights at Clark Atlanta University, where students, teachers and elected officials can use the lessons of the civil rights movement to continue to effect change.
Among those filling the Martin Luther King Jr. Chapel at Morehouse College were politicians, clergy and the community.