Condolences were still pouring in for the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery after the civil rights movement lost one of its founding fathers last week. Lowery, who was also hailed as the “Dean of the Civil Rights Movement,” died Friday at the age of 98. But his legend is set to live on forever for his lifelong commitment to the nonviolent struggle for the causes of justice, human rights, economic equality, voting rights, peace and human dignity.
Aside from having the distinction of being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, it was who presented it to him that arguably made for a bigger moment when Barack Obama, the first Black president, secured the medal around Lowery’s neck in August of 2009. That priceless moment came about eight months after Lowery delivered the benediction at Obama’s inauguration.
One of the highlights from Lowery’s benediction — or prayer — came when he made a reference to racial equality in the context of Obama’s pioneering election that put a Black man in the White House. “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, when brown can stick around,” Lowery said to laughter as he kept rhyming. “… When yellow will be mellow…,” he continued before adding: “when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right.”
In honor of Lowery’s legendary life, read on to recall Lowery’s brilliant benediction that he delivered Jan. 20, 2009 The full text of Lowery’s benediction at Obama’s inauguration as well as the video follows below:
“God of our weary years, god of our silent tears, thou, who has brought us thus far along the way, thou, who has by thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path we pray, lest our feet stray from the places, our god, where we met thee, lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee.
“Shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand true to thee, oh God, and true to our native land.
“We truly give thanks for the glorious experience we’ve shared this day.
“We pay now, oh Lord, for your blessing upon thy servant Barack Obama, the 44th president of these United States, his family and his administration.
“He has come to this high office at a low moment in the national, and indeed the global, fiscal climate. But because we know you got the whole world in your hands, we pray for not only our nation, but for the community of nations.
“Our faith does not shrink though pressed by the flood of mortal ills.
“For we know that, Lord, you are able and you’re willing to work through faithful leadership to restore stability, mend our brokenness, heal our wounds, and deliver us from the exploitation of the poor, of the least of these, and from favoritism toward the rich, the elite of these.
“We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that yes we can work together to achieve a more perfect union.
“And while we have sown the seeds of greed — the wind of greed and corruption, and even as we reap the whirlwind of social and economic disruption, we seek forgiveness and we come in a spirit of unity and solidarity to commit our support to our president by our willingness to make sacrifices, to respect your creation, to turn to each other and not on each other.
“And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.
“And as we leave this mountain top, help us to hold on to the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of our family. Let us take that power back to our homes, our workplaces, our churches, our temples, our mosques, or wherever we seek your will.
“Bless President Barack, First Lady Michelle. Look over our little angelic Sasha and Malia.
“We go now to walk together as children, pledging that we won’t get weary in the difficult days ahead. We know you will not leave us alone.
“With your hands of power and your heart of love, help us then, now, Lord, to work for that day when nations shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors, when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid, when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.
“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, when brown can stick around…
“… when yellow will be mellow…
“when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen.”
Watch the full video below.