Unfortunately, the wives of civil rights icons often stand in the shadows of their eminent husbands, but Evelyn Lowery, the wife of Joseph Lowery, stepped outside of that shadow and established her own special place in the struggle for civil and human rights.

Her impressive activism came to a close last Thursday in Atlanta after suffering a massive stroke the day before. She was 88.

Shortly after the Rev. Joseph Lowery and his cohorts, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ella Baker, formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Evelyn Lowery founded the SCLC Women’s Organizational Movement for Equality Now Inc. to champion the rights of women, children, families and their ability to respond to issues affecting the community. Through that organization, she spearheaded education and mentoring programs and HIV/AIDS awareness initiatives and built coalitions and alliances with various women’s groups across the globe.

Evelyn Lowery also created the Drum Major for Justice Award, which recognizes awardees for their contributions to the Civil Rights Movement and achievements in their professional fields.

“My beloved Evelyn was a special woman whose life was committed to service, especially around the issues of empowering women,” said Lowery, a past president of the SCLC, in a family statement. “She was a wonderful mother and wife, and I thank God that she didn’t suffer any pain and that I was blessed having her as my partner, my confidant and my best friend for close to 70 years.”

Praise for her tireless devotion to justice and equality was noted by Roslyn M. Brock, chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors. “A pioneer and champion in the Civil Rights Movement has passed on,” she stated. “Evelyn Lowery’s leadership was essential to the longevity and power behind the movement for equality. Ms. Lowery was a Drum Major for Justice in her own right. Her spirit lives on in the initiatives she founded and in the activists she mentored across the nation.”

Equally effusive about Lowery’s contributions was Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP. “Today, we mourn the passing of a champion for civil and human rights,” Jealous said in a press statement. “Ms. Lowery’s foresight and leadership pushed the envelope of what organizations like the SCLC and the NAACP could do for women and families. Her legacy lives on in the coalitions she built and the strong foundation she laid. She was a hero and will be truly missed.”

Born on Feb. 16, 1925, in Memphis, Evelyn Gibson Lowery was the daughter of Harry Gibson, a major presence as president of the local chapter of the NAACP. She was a teenager when she became actively engaged in the Civil Rights Movement. On May 5, 1946, she married Joseph Lowery.

In September, the couple was in Birmingham, Ala., for the 50th anniversary of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four Black girls in 1963.

A public viewing for Lowery was held at the Cascade United Methodist Church in southwest Atlanta. A memorial service is being held Wednesday morning at the International Chapel at Morehouse College.