Civil rights icon Rev. Joseph Lowery is under fire for saying at a Georgia get-out-the-vote event that all white people are going to hell—a comment that Lowery later said he meant as a joke, according to a report on the Daily Caller.
With a headline that blared “Obama’s inauguration reverend: All whites are going to hell,” Lowery, who just turned 91 three weeks ago, is being accused of making comments that shocked some of the event attendees. Because Lowery, former president and founder of the SCLC with Dr. Martin Luther King, gave the benediction at President Obama’s 2009 inauguration, the comments are being linked to Obama.
According to the report in the Macon County Reporter newspaper, Lowery also told the audience at the St. James Baptist Church in Forsyth, Ga., “I don’t know what kind of a n—– wouldn’t vote with a black man running.”
But Lowery later said he didn’t remember making that comment.
Lowery 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 Reporter account.
“It was a joke” told via the perspective of a young militant, Lowery told The Daily Caller. “When I said it, I said it was a joke, I identified it as a joke,” he said.
Helen Butler, the executive director of Lowery’s Georgia-based Coalition for the People’s Agenda, explained that “He was saying [that] based on all of the hatred that’s going on” towards President Barack Obama.
“He just felt that he should feel the way he used to feel,” Butler 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.”
“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.
But Forsyth Mayor John Howard, who is African American, said 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.