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In Manifesto, Ministers United Against Intolerance

Seen a 2003 photo, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, a key civil rights leader, calls the ministers who issued the manifesto bold and courageous.
Erik S. Lesser / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Seen a 2003 photo, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, a key civil rights leader, calls the ministers who issued the manifesto bold and courageous.


Fifty years ago, 80 white pastors in the Atlanta area took on segregationists in the Deep South. They took their beliefs to the front page of Atlanta's main newspaper in 1957, issuing what has been called The Ministers' Manifesto.

It was an appeal for peace during the debate over integration, when the state of Georgia weighed closing its schools rather than allow black and white children to attend them together. The ministers issued their statement on Nov. 3, 1957, after mobs had partially shut down Central High School in Little Rock, Ark.

Lynn Neary speaks with retired United Methodist Bishop Bevel Jones, who helped write the manifesto, and the Rev. Joseph Lowery, co-founder and president emeritus of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, about the historic document's impact.

Jones says his parishioners weren't surprised by the manifesto because he had been "preaching on the issue," though they were "curious" about the tactic. "But I got some awfully, awfully hot letters from the public and some phone calls," he adds.

Lowery was in Mobile, Ala., at the time. "We were very much aware of what had happened in Atlanta because all of us were traumatized by what had happened in Little Rock. So when these ministers in Atlanta spoke out, it was a breath of fresh air.

"Considering the environment and the times in which they issued a statement, it was a bold statement," Lowery says.

Read today, the manifesto sounds "mild and extremely cautious," Lowery says. "But at that time, it was a strong statement and we welcomed it for we needed leadership from the church."

The statement never explicitly condemned segregation, but nevertheless it had a "sobering and calming effect on people across the South," Lowery says.

Today, more progress is needed on the desegregation of schools in Atlanta and other cities, Lowery says.

"Of course, we're not satisfied because we haven't reached the maximum potential of brotherhood and justice in this country," he says. "But these ministers were more courageous than white ministers generally are today. We simply do not hear the calming, prophetic voices that this statement represented a half-century ago."

Jones says the manifesto should be celebrated as "an example of the kind of influence and impact that the church should have" as a force for unity on civil rights issues.

Jones and Lowery are scheduled to speak about the Minister's Manifesto this weekend in Atlanta.

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