Longtime African-American civil rights advocate Rev. Joseph Lowery told The Daily Caller that he was joking when he told a get-out-the-vote event that all whites will go to hell.
“It was a joke” that was supposed to show the perspective of a young militant, Lowery told TheDC. “When I said it, I said it was a joke, I identified it as a joke.”
However, attendees at the African-American event Oct. 27 were reportedly horrified.
An Oct. 31 article in the Monroe County Reporter newspaper reports that Lowery, who gave the benediction at the January 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama, told the audience of up to 300 African-Americans “that when he was a young militant, he used to say all white folks were going to hell. Then he mellowed and just said most of them were. Now, he said, he is back to where he was.”
Lowery’s aide described the Oct. 27 statement as a reaction to bias against Obama: “He was saying [that] based on all of the hatred that’s going on” towards the president, Helen Butler, the executive director of Lowery’s Georgia-based Coalition for the People’s Agenda, told TheDC.
“He just felt that he should feel the way he used to feel,” Butler, who attended the rally, explained.
The speech, she said, was also intended to boost turnout in the presidential election.
Obama and his political allies are relying on high minority turnout to counter a sharp drop-off in support among mainstream white voters.
“He was trying to get people motivated to ensure they go and vote…. [and] he did make the point that there is a lot of hatred in this country,” she said.
“Of course he doesn’t believe that all whites should go to hell,” she added. “That’s not him — he’s a very caring person.”
Lowery, who gave the benediction at the January 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama, told the audience of up to 300 African-Americans “that when he was a young militant, he used to say all white folks were going to hell. Then he mellowed and just said most of them were. Now, he said, he is back to where he was,” according to an Oct. 31 report in the Monroe County Reporter newspaper.
“I don’t know what kind of a n—– wouldn’t vote with a black man running,” Lowery also told the audience in the St. James Baptist Church in Forsyth, Ga., according to the Reporter.
Lowery insisted the go-to-hell statement was a joke.
However, the article also quotes Forsyth Mayor John Howard saying he was “pretty shocked” by Lowery’s comments.
Howard “said if a speaker had made the same comments about black people, he would have gotten up and left… He said the Bible gives set instructions on how to go to heaven and it doesn’t say anything about skin color … [and] he said he looked at the face of his pastor, the Rev. Antonio Proctor, and could tell he was real shocked too,” according to the Macon County Reporter account.
“Howard said he and Proctor talked about putting a video of the event on Forsyth Cable TV but decided after [Lowery’s] comments that it wasn’t a good idea,” the article said.
When asked by TheDC about the other notable comment — “what kind of a n—- wouldn’t vote with a black man running” — Lowery said he did not remember making that statement.
“I never said that, I don’t remember saying that,” he told TheDC.
Lowery’s n-word comment was not a discriminatory comment or an appeal to racial solidarity, Butler told TheDC. “He’s not saying you should support the black guy because of his race, he’s saying you should support a competent black person,” she said. “If all else is equal, why not vote for your race?”
When asked why polls show up to 95 percent support for Obama among African-Americans despite their tough economic circumstances over the last 10 years, Lowery said, “I’d like to see it 99” percent.
“When you look at the travails, the rocky road that blacks have had to negotiate in their life’s experience in this country, it is a great blessing to see that we’ve come so far as to have a black president, and I think that people are excited about it and appreciate it and want to see him re-elected,” he told TheDC.
Lowery is a major figure in Democratic politics. He was born in 1921 and is called a “civil rights icon” because he co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Rev. Martin Luther King and ran it for 20 years, from 1977 to 1997.
During Obama’s inauguration, Lowery declared, “Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get [in] back… [and] when white will embrace what is right.”
Lowery also headed the George delegation to the Democratic Party’s 2012 convention in Charlotte, N.C.