By Maria José Subiria
Civic leaders from across metro Atlanta gathered at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Thursday to celebrate and honor the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, a day after he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in Washington, D.C.
The award, presented by President Barack Obama, is the highest civilian honor in the United States.
"It means a lot to have so many people at home [in Atlanta] giving you so much honor and recognition, because they know you so well," Lowery said of Thursday's reception at the Atlanta airport.
Lowery has been in the public eye for more than 50 years advocating for racial justice, human rights and world peace, according to the Joseph E. Lowery Institute for Justice and Human Rights at Clark Atlanta University.
Lowery led the Alabama Civic Affairs Association, which moved to desegregate buses and other public facilities. In 1957, he worked along with Martin Luther King, Jr., and other Southern ministers to organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
"From his landmark service alongside [King] to his modern day advocacy on behalf of civil rights, domestically and abroad, Rev. Lowery has labored to improve our world," said Ben DeCosta, aviation general manager at Hartsfield-Jackson. "This agent of change has earned a rightful spot among the elite group of Americans who wear the Medal of Freedom, and we are proud to welcome him home."
Hartsfield-Jackson officials presented Lowery with a framed photo of himself with an image of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
During his remarks, Lowery said he wished the Medal of Freedom was large enough to include all of the names of those who struggled for decades for equal rights.
Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell, who attended the reception, said he has had the honor of traveling with Lowery from Mississippi to Montgomery, Ala., to retrace the steps King took during the civil rights movement.
"I think we here on the south side are getting a glorious opportunity to celebrate and congratulate Joseph E. Lowery for being a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom," said Bell. "Personally for me, it's an opportunity to remind him of the many small things he's done in a gargantuan way ... I applaud him for the many high honors he has been getting."